This is one of my favorite interviews because it started out on such a positive note. Nimmo had been hit by a pitch on his shoulder a couple days before and still wasn’t feeling right (he ended up sitting out until August 11 before returning with two straight multi-hit games leading into the All-Star break), so he finished up batting practice early and we sat down to talk. I knew I had to tell him the story about my son, but wasn’t sure how he would react. The majority of players I’ve dealt with would given a polite chuckle and then waited patiently for the next question, but Nimmo laughed so hard he almost fell over. It instantly put me at ease and set a great tone for the rest of our conversation.
Nimmo was last week’s featured player in my New York-Penn League Notebook at MiLB.com. In this conversation, we spoke about Finding Nemo, how his days as an amateur in Wyoming helped prepare him for a professional career, and how the success of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout raise fan expectations for his career.
I gotta tell you, my son is five, and I was worrying about setting this up last night. I went to read him his bedtime story, and the story he picked out was “Finding Nemo.” I laughed and I went to my wife afterwards and I said, “You know, somebody’s telling me it’s gonna turn out okay.” I just looked at him and said, “You don’t even know why I’m laughing at you, kiddo.” It was a positive sign.
[laughs] It’s good, it’s good, those are needed.
Now I know that’s not how you pronounce your name, right?
Right, it’s Nimm-oh.
After that movie came out, did you start hearing that from opponents?
Even before that movie came out, that was how people would say my name for the first time. That’s how they would pronounce it. So I was used to it, and then after the movie came out it hit a new level. I’m used to it by now, but I had an umpire one time stop the game and he said, “Hey, wait, look: I found Nemo!” Like I haven’t heard that one before.
That’s a little unusual.
Yeah, yeah. [laughs] That’ll be connected to me probably for the rest of my life, as long as it’s popular.
That’s actually what your Twitter account is, isn’t it?
Yeah, I played with it. I played with it and went with @YouFoundNimmo. It’s good fun. I like to toy around with it, the guys do too, so it’s good.
A lot of people that I talk to say that coming in new to professional baseball, which you have in the last calendar year or so, they say that the grind and the travel is really the toughest thing to deal with. Now, in high school you kind of dealt with that. I read that you had some long trips. Did that better prepare you for coming into this?
Definitely. These bus trips are very normal to me now. The only thing that makes them unusual is that you will travel all through the night to get somewhere. But then we get there and we get our sleep in. But that has really helped. Our state is massive. You have to go a long ways to play good competition. So we do, and that makes this transition to this league, where I think our furthest drive was to Mahoning Valley, and that was about eight, nine hours. I used to make that trip all the time to go see my brother play in Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska. So from where we are it’s about an eight hour drive to Omaha, seven to Lincoln. That’s definitely, definitely helped, and we have good accommodations on the bus – a nice seat, TV, the iPad. It’s just very nice.
So that’s been a good transition for me. The GRIND is where it’s really gotten me. Every day you’ve got to get ready mentally, every day, to play 100%. That’s been the biggest thing, and yeah, just like everyone said, it causes a little bit of realizing, “Okay, wow, this is tough. This is tougher than I thought it was going to be.” You’ve really got to bear down and get after it. That’s kind of been the biggest thing for me. The travel’s been alright. Being from Wyoming has really helped.
Did you have a moment where you, like you say, where you sort of realized where you’re at and what you’re doing? Did you have a moment where you kind of said to yourself, “Alright, I’m here. This is real.”?
One of the guys that I worked out with, I went down and worked out in Arkansas during the offseason, and he’s actually a major leaguer, Logan Forsythe with the Padres. He told me that when you get to the point that you get in the car and you just want to keep driving and you don’t want to come back, that’s when you’ve hit the point that you’re welcomed in the minor leagues, in professional baseball. And I’ve had that point come where you just come and you’re failing so bad at this game that you’re just like, “Man, I don’t know. I don’t know anymore.” And I think that’s when you kind of realize, yeah, this is professional baseball. These are the best players in the world and you’ve got to really work your tail off. Everyone’s talented now. That’s kind of when that moment really sinks in that you’re in professional baseball.
Now, one of the things that I’ve read in prepping for this was your maturity, kind of hinting that when you’re going out there and you’re not playing well that you’re adjusting to it. Where does the ability you have to kind of put the past behind you, where does that come from?
My brother, like I said, he played at the University of Nebraska and he dealt with some hard times there. He’s gone through just about everything that baseball can throw at you, failure-wise, and so we always talked about how Bryce was kind of the guinea pig for us with high-level baseball and learning what you have to do and how you have to prepare and what you have to do to put the past behind you. So Bryce has been real key in that. Anything that I experience, he’s been through it.
I have to call him, I have to call my dad, and that support system really helps with the putting the past behind you. Someone to vent to, you know? And that’s really key for me. I need ten minutes to vent and then it’s out of the system, we don’t talk about it anymore and just put it behind you. So I think where I learned it from was my brother and just with how well he dealt with it. I just fed off of it and learned from what he did those four years that he played at Nebraska. I’ve tried to do what he did and better, at everything. Me and him are competitive, so I really watched his every move. I think that’s where it comes from. Our family is real big on baseball and so the whole family has instilled it in me, but I think where I saw it the most was with my brother.
And then after that slow start you’ve come on and gotten hot.
You know, it’s the adjustment of baseball, just seeing the game more often. More of velocity, the movement on the ball. These are all new things that didn’t happen in high school ball at all. Even the showcases that I went to, the ball is still not at this level. So just the speed of the game. You can practice, you can prepare, you can do everything that you want for the game, but not much beats experience.
So really, that’s the biggest key is getting out here, playing under the lights, playing in this atmosphere, getting used to the pitching, the speed of the game, and that’s been the whole thing that I’ve had to deal with this past year. There’s going to be weeks and months of me adjusting to the game, and then after that it gets better. That’s kind of what’s been showing, the pattern for me so far, but there are a lot of hard times. It’s hard because you want to get in there and succeed right away, but this is a game of failure and it really shows it to you right away [laughs].
It takes a little time to adjust to it. Once I get adjusted to it and I’ve kind of calmed down and get back into how I’m playing, everything starts to slow down a little bit, then yeah. I had a good little run there for a little bit and hopefully I can keep it going after I get back on the field. Gotta get on the field to keep it going. But I think that was the biggest key, was just experience.
You’re 19. Nineteen and a few months. Obviously there’s a couple guys in the major leagues right now, Harper, Trout, freaks of nature. Do you get more questions on your development? Do you get people saying, “Hey, when are you gonna be playing in New York?”
[laughs] Plenty, plenty. At the Cyclones games, you’ll get some people who say, “Hey, you’ll be up there in a year,” or, “when are you gonna get up there?” You tell them, hey, realistically, if I stay healthy, three or four years with being a high school guy is a really good number to shoot for. And people can’t believe that because Harper and Trout – Harper’s 19, Trout’s 20, and they just look like men out there. Trout is absolutely dominating the game and Harper is doing amazing.
It’s hard for people to grasp sometimes because Harper and Trout are out there just succeeding. You said it, they’re freaks of nature. I’ve played against Harper my whole life and he’s always been great at baseball and ahead of the curve of everyone. I was never intimidated by him and I never thought I’d see him in the major leagues at 19, but he’s something else. He’s just, like you said, freak of nature. So yeah, definitely, you get those comparisons, but you’ve got to bring them back to reality and say, “Those guys are really special.” And you are too, you’ve got to have that confidence and everything, but there is a reality check.
Three or four years is good. If you’re there by the time you’re 22-years-old, then you’re doing really, really well. You’ve got a long career ahead of you if you can keep it up. So I try and keep that reality, but some people do expect that Harper/Trout stuff.
This spring, were you hoping to start with a full-season squad?
Yeah, I came into Spring Training…you want to set the bar high, set a goal high. You want to make a long-season team, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way and this year it didn’t, and actually it was something I needed. I needed a little more time away to just kind of hone the skills, get comfortable again, and then come out here. I mean, as you saw, this is a high-competition baseball right here. These guys are nothing to spit at. It’s a good level of ball and I think it was the right decision. It’s tough to deal with at the time because obviously it’s a failure in your mind right away that you didn’t make it, but it’s something that I think I needed and something that was good for me. So I definitely wanted to make a long-season but it’s working out just fine.
Is that a goal for you that you set for yourself during the season? Say, “I want to work hard and get promoted”? Or do you just kind of take every day as it comes?
Yes, you want to work hard and you want to keep that in your mind that yes, you want to move up the levels and that’s the object of this, is to get better and move up the levels. So in the weight room, in the cage, on the field, doing outfield drills, you want to work hard and you want to make sure you get the best out of it. Quality reps. But in the game, you can’t think, “Okay, I need to go 3-for-4 and I need to go on a 10-game hitting streak, 15-game hitting streak to get promoted.” You can’t think that way because really, you don’t know what’s going on. Injuries can make you get promoted even when you’re not doing well, and you even doing well can not get you promoted.
I think during the game you just play the game, have fun, you relax, and that’s what I’ve noticed is when I play my best is when I just relax and try to play my game, just have fun out there. That’s the biggest thing, you know, because when you’re having fun you’re gonna be relaxed and it’s gonna show that you’re a good player. So you can’t be thinking about, “Oh, I need to put all these pressures on myself and go 4-for-4 or 3-for-4.” It doesn’t matter. When you put pressure on yourself you tighten up and just don’t play as well. For me, at least.
Obviously, this sounds dumb to say, it’s a long-term goal, but you’re saying day-to-day you have to not pay attention to it.
Yeah, day-to-day make sure that you are doing your best to make it. But in the game you’ve got to put all those expectations aside and just have fun and play, because it’s a marathon. You’re not going to get there in a day and you’re not going to get there in a month. It’s going to take years, and so you just have to set little short-term goals for yourself to get better at and keep grinding.
Last thing I wanted to ask you was, I talked to Deven Marrero over in Lowell, he went to Arizona State. I asked him about the attention that he deals with, playing so close to Boston, and he was kind of like, “Dude, I went to Arizona State. I’ve dealt with attention before.” Has it been difficult for you, coming from Wyoming, which I’m imaging there’s not a ton of media attention, and now all of a sudden there’s stories on you in the New York Times, the New York Daily News?
Yeah, definitely a lot different. The New York media, yes, it’s a big change for me. I didn’t go to Arizona State and be a part of all that media and you get accustomed to it, but the one thing that’s been real good for me is I’m real comfortable with the media. So I’m not intimidated and they aren’t by me and so we have good conversations. I just tell them the truth, and they appreciate that.
I think it’s been a good relationship so far. I haven’t had any troubles with it, and I don’t think they have either. It’s just part of the game. It comes with it. You know, as long as I’m able to get my work in, I’ve got time to talk. As long as I’m getting my work in, I don’t mind it at all. It’s not a big deal to me. It definitely revved up a lot my senior year when the projections started coming out that I could be a first-rounder and I’m from Wyoming and, “Wow, this is a heck of a story.” All of a sudden the USA [Today] came out, and New York Post, and all these people started coming out, so I did get a little bit of time my senior year to start dealing with more media attention.
But being in Brooklyn you’re right next to the Mets. You’re the mini-Mets so you get a lot of that New York media, but it’s been fun. It’s fun. You kind of feel like you’re a part of it. You’re not off in the distance. I have a lot of fun with it and I’m trying not to make it more of a big deal than it is.
Did they bring you out to CitiField or anything when you signed?
Yeah, I think it was last September. They took me about two or three days out of instructs and I went and hit on CitiField, did a little press conference with the media. One thing they said was, “Hey, being a guy from Wyoming, why aren’t you a little more shy in front of us, with being with the media?” You know, it’s just not who I am, and I think that’s a good thing for being for New York. It is a high, very media…
You’re out there.
Yeah, you’re out there. So you know, just have fun with it, enjoy every minute of it, and don’t have a problem with the media. They have a job to do, I have a job to do. We all just want to do our jobs and it’s all good. Just let it be as simple as it is.