Charles Nagy settles in behind the wheel for his drive to the happiest place on Earth.
Anaheim? We’ll yeah, but Nagy is pointing his car a few miles east of Disneyland toward Angel Stadium.
Nagy, the Angels pitching coach who resides in Solana Beach, doesn’t mind his Orange County commute.
“It’s not that far,” he said.
But this year is different with the Angels’ rookie pitcher from the Far East: Shohei Ohtani.
If you’re a baseball fan and haven’t heard of Ohtani, you will.
If you’re a baseball fan and haven’t see Ohtani, you won’t forget it.
Ohtani, in his first season after starring in Japan, is not only under Nagy’s tutelage as a pitcher. But the right-handed hurler is a left-handed hitter and he does both equally as well.
“He’s been great,” said Nagy, who won 128 games in the Majors. “He’s a happy kid, easygoing. He loves baseball, you can tell.”
And baseball is hugging him right back, embracing the nuances of the sport’s first two-way player since Babe Ruth. But when Ruth was pitching and hitting, the Yankees didn’t have a pitching coach. Mike Scioscia, the Angels manager, has the luxury of leaning on Nagy.
With Ohtani on board Nagy constructed a six-man rotation that features one extra starter than other teams. Nagy has to balance when Ohtani is practicing hitting with his pitching.
Ohtani, 23, doesn’t bat in games he pitches in, or the day before or after an outing. He doesn’t climb the mound in the four games he hits in. So Nagy’s task is to make sure Ohtani gets his work in between starts.
The exciting Ohtani was 3-1 as a starter and had a .339 batting average with four home runs through Monday.
Nagy is also juggling a rotation that has seen three starters derailed by injuries.
“The life of a major-league pitching coach encompasses a lot of stuff,” Scioscia said. “Luckily, Charles is good at it.”
Nagy was better than good through his 14 years in the Majors, his last one being with the Padres in 2003. He was a three-time All-Star and he pitched in two World Series with the Cleveland Indians.
Ohtani, through a translator, said he thinks the world of Nagy.
“He has really good eyes and he has been watching me,” Ohtani said. “He has been giving me advice and has been a huge help to me.”
Nagy connects with his pitchers because he’s walked in their cleats.
“He always brings a positive mindset,” said Angels pitcher Nick Tropeano. “There are always going to be those rough outings that you have. But he will be there with that smile and that learn-and-forget mentality and that’s what you need.”
What the Angels have required from their starters is flexibility because of the uniqueness of Ohtani. And much of the responsibility of making sure it goes smoothly lies with Nagy.
“With Ohtani, he is a different type of player,” Tropeano said. “We don’t really know how to work a two-way guy like that. I think the whole coaching staff, but Nagy especially, has been doing well with it.
“We’re going with a six-man rotation and that is pretty unchartered water there. But when you have a talent like Ohtani, you aren’t going to pass that up. You’ll make the adjustment.”
Nagy slides his car seat back and prepares for another trek to the Big A where the multi-talented Ohtani is waiting.
“You would have thought it would have happened sooner,” Nagy said. “But he came over highly touted in both regards. And as a fan of the game, I’m just watching and hoping he succeeds like everybody else.”
The hardworking Ohtani has the drive, although it’s different than Nagy’s.
Contact Jay Paris at email@example.com. Follow him @jparis_sports
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports