The Chicago White Sox beat the Oakland A's 2-0 in a spring training game in Phoenix on Tuesday afternoon. Bullpen coach Juan Nieves liked what he saw.
"Shutouts in the Cactus League are rare," he said.
Nieves, who has lived in Clover since 2005, spent three seasons (2005-2007) with the Charlotte Knights as pitching coach before being asked to join the big league team. He will return to Knights Stadium today when Chicago plays an exhibition game against the Knights in Fort Mill. Game time is set for 7 p.m. and the gates will open two hours prior to the first pitch.
Jake Peavy, the 2007 National League Cy Young Award winner, will start for the White Sox.
Nieves has been in Arizona with the White Sox for nearly two months. The team plays in the Cactus League which, along with the Grapefruit League in Florida, is where major league baseball teams prepare for the regular season.
The schedule works out pretty well for Nieves. He will be glad to see his wife, Marilia, and family at the game. The couple has three children; two in elementary school and their youngest will soon start school.
But Nieves will be unable to spend the night at home. The team is flying to Atlanta immediately after tonight's game. They will play two exhibition games at Turner Field against the Braves -- Friday and Saturday -- and go straight to Chicago. The White Sox open the season on Monday against the Cleveland Indians.
Such is life for a major league coach.
Nieves will see his family soon enough, though. Marilia will drive the children, who will be on spring break, to Chicago and they will spend the week with their big-league dad.
"I am the happiest man when my family is around," Nieves said.
The last week of spring training is a busy time for Nieves and the rest of Chicago's coaching staff as they settle on a final 25-man roster. He's been working with the organization's pitchers to help them reach their highest level. Nieves helps decide who will break camp with the White Sox and who will be with the Knights or at lower levels of the team's farm system.
Nieves' job is to get pitchers ready to go into a game at a moment's notice. A call from the White Sox dugout during a game means it's time to get a pitcher or two up and throwing, so the one summoned will be loose when the call comes for him to take over on the mound.
"We've worked very hard this spring. It's a challenge," Nieves said, "to fine tune the machine, then let the machine run, and hope it all runs well."
Nieves, 45, has been around the game for a long time as a player and a coach. He pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1986-1988 and threw a no-hitter against Baltimore during the Brewers' 13-game winning streak to start the 1987 season. He began his coaching career in the New York Yankees system in 1991 and has been with the White Sox since 1999.
The Knights director of broadcasting Matt Swierad goes back many years with Nieves. The two were in the Class A Carolina League at the same time; Swierad with the Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads, Nieves with the Greensboro (N.C.) Bats.
"Juan definitely knows the pitchers. You have to have great attention to detail with individuals to be good at what he does," Swierad said.
"He's really good at getting the most out of each guy. He was a success as a major league pitcher and has the backing of having been there, done that. For him to have the chance to go back to the big leagues (as a coach) was well-deserved."
Swierad has worked with many different coaches over his 17-year career in baseball. He likes the way Nieves handles himself and the manner in which he communicates.
"He never belittled anyone," Swierad said. "He never made you feel like you couldn't get into his inner circle."
Returning to Knights Stadium will bring back good memories for Nieves. He spoke fondly of working with the pitchers and members of the front office during his time with the club. In Triple-A, Nieves said, it's tricky dealing with the pitchers' psyches and egos.
"You have guys that think they should be at the big league level and there are some mixed feelings. I have to be very sensitive," Nieves said.
"It's unbelievable management. I want to help push pitchers to do the best they can."
Knights' media relations director Patrick Starck said Nieves was always willing to do extra things while he was with the team and continues to help now.
"He does stuff because this was his stadium. We were the people he worked with for three years," Starck explained. "He helped with the Latin players since he speaks Spanish; he is a great resource."
Starck said Nieves even did some hospital appearances for the club. "It's tough for coaches to do that," he said.
Nieves' father was always at the stadium. He even took some road trips with the team. He has since passed away.
Often the Nieves' children were around the ballpark. When there was a birthday, Nieves would rent a sky box for a party.
Those are good memories, but he's more tuned in to the 2010 White Sox pitching staff. The real season begins Monday.
So far, he likes what he sees.