Boomers gig a boon for T.J. Nall
Seven minutes is all it takes T.J. Nall to walk from the front door of his home in Roselle to home plate at Schaumburg Boomers Stadium.
So the opportunity to become the Boomers pitching coach seemed to be a perfect homecoming for the former Schaumburg High School star who pitched in the minor leagues for nearly a decade.
But a year ago, Nall and his wife Robyn were expecting their first child in May, right when the Boomers' season was starting. Nall was also closing in on getting the college degree he put on hold while pursuing his baseball career.
"The timing wasn't right," said Nall, who is also starting his fifth year as the pitching coach for junior college power Oakton College.
A year later, the Boomers pitching coach position was open again and manager Jamie Bennett contacted Nall. He had completed his physical education degree at North Central College in December, but he still had to consider the implications for Robyn and their newborn son Brayden.
"She put up with it for nine years while I was playing, so she knows the expectations and the travel and all that," Nall said of his high school sweetheart and wife since October 2007. "It took me aback because we sat there talking one day and I said, 'What do I do?'
"She flat out asked me, 'Do you want to do it?' I said, 'Absolutely,' and she said, 'OK, do it.'"
Now Nall will be working just a few miles from where he helped Schaumburg win the 1997 Class AA state title and went on to become the Daily Herald's Cook County All-Area captain in 1999.
But Bennett, who also pitched six years professionally and was 54-42 in the Boomers' debut last year, made it clear this was not a way just to get a few extra fans in the seats.
"When the job became available again he was obviously first on my list and fortunately it worked out," Bennett said. "Being from Schaumburg is an added bonus for us, but we're hiring him because of his baseball background and what he brings to the table as a pitching coach."
Bennett and Nall didn't know each other but did have connections. Bennett and Nall's brother Mike pitched together in 2001 for the Philadelphia Phillies' Class A affiliate in Batavia, N.Y.
And Bennett was the pitching coach in Gary and saw Nall make his final pro appearance in 2008 with Kansas City in the Northern League.
"My elbow just said, 'That's it,'" Nall said with a laugh about giving up 6 runs in 3 innings. "I didn't go out the way I wanted to go out but few people do."
Nall, an eighth-round draft pick of the Dodgers out of high school, had overcome Tommy John surgery to make it as high as Triple-A and also pitched in the Washington and Boston organizations. He wasn't ready to just push baseball aside.
But he was unable to land any coaching jobs in major-league organizations. He eventually went to Oakton to work for head coach Bill Fratto while also going back to get his college degree.
"Bill has done a great job and I'm very grateful for everything he's done for me," Nall said. "He's been absolutely amazing and he's treated me well.
"I have learned a lot. Being at Oakton has allowed me to try different things. I'm still learning and still finding ways of communicating what I'm trying to get done."
Bennett saw Nall had the ability to get his message across at the pro level.
"The biggest thing is his personality — he's one of the most likable guys I've spoken to," Bennett said. "It's almost like talking to his brother (Mike). There was almost an immediate sense of familiarity there."
They haven't gotten fully into their philosophies yet, but Bennett expects to have a solid give-and-take with Nall and sharing of ideas. Nall said he took something from all of his pro pitching coaches, but he has his fondest memories of the year-and-a-half he worked with former standout big-league reliever Roger McDowell.
"He probably had me during my worst season with the Dodgers," Nall said. "He really focused in on getting in my head and figuring out where I was hung up mentally. He really dug into my head and pulled everything out and had a way of getting into my head and making me go."
That's what Nall hopes to do with pitchers who are trying to make that jump into a major-league organization. The Boomers don't start their season until mid-May, so the overlap with Oakton's season will be brief and the time on the road and away from his family won't be as extensive.
Nall said he eventually would like to give his family some full-time security by getting a full-time teaching job and coaching high school baseball. But his current goal is to guide the Boomers' pitching staff to a successful summer.
"The Boomers are the right fit at the right time," Nall said. "I'm really excited to get back into pro ball and see where it takes me."
At least it isn't far from home for the home games.
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