Giants coach Alyssa Nakken's long walk to 1st base historic step for women in baseball
30-year-old took advantage of sport's pause to learn what she needed to do the job
Alyssa Nakken and Antoan Richardson took a walk to have a candid heart-to-heart chat, making their way around a back field at Scottsdale Stadium for close to 45 minutes one March day just before baseball got shut down by the coronavirus.
"Look, let's not fool ourselves, you're not ready," Richardson told Nakken.
Unfazed, the two Giants coaches vowed to get back to work and go even harder, to focus on all she does well and realize the importance of acknowledging the things she doesn't know — or at least not yet.
So when Nakken took over for Richardson coaching first base Monday night during an exhibition game in Oakland, the moment meant so much to each of them.
"I'm getting goosebumps right now. The road that we've travelled and some of the conversations that we've had to get to that point were really fulfilling, just kind of watching her grow and learn over the past couple of months has just been really cool," Richardson said Wednesday by phone from Los Angeles. "The time that she put in to learn the craft over the time that we weren't on the field I'm seeing that pay off for her, which is really cool to see. We've talked about her readiness."
Nakken is now handling a variety of tasks for the Giants, so busy gearing up for the season she has little time to relish in the history of it all.
She's the first female on a major league coaching staff and even worked at first base for part of Monday's exhibition game in Oakland, then started at the spot a night later in San Francisco.
"You feel a sense of pride to be out there," the 30-year-old Nakken said of becoming the first woman in major league history to coach on the field. "Me personally it's the best place to watch a game, that's for sure."
By first pitch of Thursday night's season opener at Dodger Stadium, Nakken will be back behind the scenes making sure bench players stay ready in the batting cage and talking base-running and outfield defence. Richardson is the regular first base coach.
He pushed her this week to spend some innings at first in his place, and it proved valuable experience for the former college softball star.
"I'm still wrapping my head around it all. I was always preparing and staying ready for whatever position I would be put in," Nakken said. "We've talked about this opportunity before but it kind of came quick. I was ready to go when Antoan Richardson encouraged me to go out there. It's an awesome feeling to be out there."
WATCH | Astros prepare for return to field amid scrutiny over cheating scandal:
She also sat in on some meetings with players telling them they made the team and to pack their bags for the road to face the rival Dodgers as the delayed 60-game season finally starts.
Nakken, with that long blonde braid swinging beneath her batting helmet, already made history when Gabe Kapler hired her to his big league coaching staff in January.
"I keep continuing to remind Alyssa that as she represents herself she represents a lot of people and a lot of hope," Richardson said. "I always challenge her to not just think about not just how every decision affects you but how does it affect the other people that are impacted by every move that you make.
"Sometimes it is a lot, a big responsibility, but she has made a commitment to take that head on. She recognizes every day that the conversation she has with me impacts the next woman who has an opportunity to do something, it doesn't even have to be in baseball. Just really proud to see her take that responsibility on, and take it on with pride and I keep saying the word, with dignity. She really honours those that she stands for."
At Sacramento State from 2009-2012, Nakken was a three-time all-conference player and four-time Academic All American. She went on to earn a master's degree in sport management from the University of San Francisco in 2015.
"One of the best things about Antoan is how dedicated he is to developing our staff," Kapler said. "I've always believed that it's easy for coaches to remember to develop players, but it can be harder to remember to give that same effort to the people you work side by side with every day. Antoan never forgets that and gives 100 per cent to everyone he works with, and it unquestionably makes us better as a group."
That conversation four months ago certainly helped in the growth process.
"Just kind of aired it out, really shared and got below the surface a little bit on what was going on, some of the challenges and really had an honest conversation about the job," Richardson said. "I think we just learned a lot about each other and we learned how much we cared, one, about what we're working with but also how we cared about people around us and how we wanted to help each other grow in this opportunity."
Nakken is so appreciative of both Richardson and Kapler for encouraging her and pushing her to keep making strides forward.
"I don't know exactly how the conversations went between he and Kap but they both are very encouraged by people taking steps to develop," Nakken said. "So I'm pretty sure Kap was all in on that when Antoan went with him with some confidence that I could do it."
This time, they all knew she was well prepared.