Nickels keep his ears wide open
Author(s): Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: July 30, 2000
Gary Nickels looks relaxed in his San Diego Padres polo shirt and khakis, but he's ready for action. Nickels, a Kaneland High School grad and longtime Naperville resident, is the Padres' director of scouting, and was at Elfstrom Stadium Friday and Saturday evaluating the Kane County Cougars.
The major-league trade deadline for players to be eligible for the postseason is July 31, and even though fans think of contenders like the White Sox, Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, Reds, Mets, Diamondbacks and Giants when they think of last-second deals, Nickels says the Padres and Marlins and many other also-rans can get in on the transactions.
"The possibility of three-way trades," Nickels says.
As he listened to an interviewer with one ear, he kept the other trained on his briefcase, which held a cellular phone. It was his link, should the club want to discuss a trade or send Nickels to see a player before Monday's 4 p.m. (Eastern) deadline.
The deadline at one time was midnight, and there was a ruling stating that a traded player had to be in the same town as his new team by midnight. That complication led to Nickels' most memorable trading deadline. Though he can't recall the name of the player involved, Nickels was with Baltimore and the Orioles were in Detroit.
"We had a player circling the Detroit airport, and he couldn't land, because of the weather, by midnight," Nickels says. "We had to get a special dispensation from the commissioner's office to say 'OK, this guy's eligible for the postseason.' "
Nickels, who began his scouting career with the Phillies before moving to the Cubs in 1982, is proudest of 1985, the year he helped sign Rafael Palmeiro (first round) and Mark Grace (24th). Mississippi State's Palmeiro was the no-brainer, but San Diego State's Grace took a little more effort.
"I had the Alaska (summer) League that year," Nickels says. "(Grace) was playing up there, so I sat and watched him, and the more you watched him, the more you said 'We've got to sign this guy.' To have two guys like that sign in one year is pretty good."
Nickels also helped ink Shawon Dunston and Joe Girardi before switching to the Baltimore organization in 1989, where he rose to the title of scouting director. Nickels joined the Padres after the 1998 campaign.
Once the deadline has passed, Nickels will head to Japan to scout that country's pros. It will be his third trip there, and it's an experience he says every baseball fan should make.
"It's a little bit different," Nickels says of the Japanese approach to the game. "They care just as much if not more about baseball as we do. The game is played much differently, what you'd call 'small ball.'
In the first inning, I saw three- and four-hole hitters bunting. They don't have much power. The power hitters they have are North Americans who are brought over.
"The perfect game for (Japanese managers) would be to score 1 run in each of the 9 innings."
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