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December 06, 2001

Outtakes with Robb Nen

UNCUT VERSION: A condensed version of Dan Patrick's interview with San Francisco Giants closer Robb Nen appears in the Oct. 15 edition of ESPN The Magazine.

Robb Nen
Giants closer Robb Nen had more saves in 2001 than in 2000 (45 to 41) but his ERA was twice as high (3.01 to 1.50).
Dan Patrick: Now Robb, this interview is meant to bring out your personality.
Robb Nen: Oh, geez. I've got no personality.
DP: Well, we're going to work on that. I'll try to do my best.
RN: Perfect. Make me look good.
DP: Don't worry, I've brought out personality in bigger stiffs than you.

DP: Have you ever smiled coming into a game?
RN: No. I try not to. You know, I try not to show anybody up. I take my job seriously and I try to go out there and just get my job done as quietly as possible and go from there.
DP: Yes, but Kirby Puckett played the game with a smile on his face. Why is it that he could do that and you wouldn't be allowed to do that?
RN: I don't know. You know what? I think it's different from a closer to a hitter. Hitters get four at-bats. It's not magnified quite as much. Sometimes if you go out on the mound with a smile, you're not focused. People perceive you as you don't care.

DP: Is there another sport that has a role similar to what you do as a closer? I mean, you come in, game on the line, all the pressure on you...
RN: A field-goal kicker, maybe. Quarterback? I don't know. It seems like, with my job, the focus is always on me.
DP: I could see a field-goal kicker.
RN: You know, coming in maybe with three seconds left in the game, you're down by two. Something like that ... or maybe a quarterback. There's a lot of pressure on him. People are looking for him to win a game or help them win a game, and if he has a bad game it's magnified.

DP: What is the mental key to handling being a closer?
RN: You have to forget about what happened the day before, whether it was good or bad. I think if you get too high or get too low, that messes with your mind a little bit. If you can go out there and stay on an even keel ... and focus on the task at hand.
DP: I've got to believe that the key to being a reliever is having a bad memory, because if you crash and burn you've got to forget about it -- and even if you do well, you can't really savor that very much, can you?
RN: No, that's what I'm saying. You stay on that even keel of not being too high when you're having a lot of success -- you don't want to get cocky. Because it's going to come down. It's a tough game and there's a lot of great hitters out there and you can have some flukes go against you. So I think you stay even-keeled and you go out there and just concentrate and worry about today and not worry about what happened yesterday, whether it was good or bad.

DP: Who has success against you that you still shake your head and say, why him?
RN: Well, I don't know if I shake my head with anybody. I think if you're in the big leagues ...
DP: Don't be politically correct here ... you know there are guys that if we were just sitting around talking, you'd say, you know what, I can't believe that guy -- I throw wicked stuff and he still comes up with hits.
RN: You know, Sammy's got some pretty good numbers against me.
DP: Yes, but that's understandable ...

DP: Do you have somebody's number, a great hitter that you keep saying in the back of your mind, I keep rolling the dice -- I shouldn't own this guy like I do?
RN: Maybe.
DP: And?
RN: Maybe.
DP: Well, who is it?
RN: I have decent success against Todd Helton, I think.
DP: And you keep saying in the back of your mind, one day he's going to figure it out.
RN: No. I mean, I do and I don't. You know, I just kind of go out there, like I say, on that even-keel -- I don't think about what happened before. I just go out there and hopefully make my pitches ... I don't think about, oh, there's going to be one day when he's going to start hitting me -- because that day might come and it might not come.

DP: Can you describe the scene from the bottom of the pile when you guys clinched last year?
RN: It was pretty unbelievable. It was a great feeling to have the team come out there and be so excited ... being at the bottom of it, everybody's on top and you're looking up and you're seeing faces on top of you, and it's like, this is what you play the game for. This is why you work so hard in the offseason and in spring training. I mean, we didn't accomplish what we wanted to, but we got to the first step -- and it's a gratifying feeling when you know you've won the division and now you're in the playoffs and you can go to that next level. We didn't get as far as we wanted, you know, but it was a nice feeling. ... It's definitely a nice feeling to be out there and be part of it, as opposed to maybe a blowout where, you know, you're sitting out in the bullpen.
DP: Or sitting watching somebody else celebrate.
RN: Exactly.
DP: Did you start to say, all right guys, enough -- I can't breathe at the bottom of the pile.
RN: No. At that point, you're not really thinking about it. I think everybody else is kind of worried about getting you out of there, but I didn't worry. I just went along with it and enjoyed it and just wanted to get inside the clubhouse and start enjoying it with everybody.
DP: You figure if you die, what a good place to die -- at the bottom of a pile.
RN: The bottom of a pile in the middle of the baseball field -- what else can you ask for?

DP: When you think of the '97 Marlins, do you look back with pride or regret?
(Editor's note: Nen was on the '97 World Series champion Marlins, who were dismantled due to revenue issues in the ensuing year.)
RN: A little of both. There's a lot of pride and lots of great memories about the way the team played and the way we came together ... but then it was all taken away, and you wonder what might have been. ... Most of us played better the next year. Me, Sheff, Moises, Brown and Leiter. ... There were a lot of guys who had some great years, after that year, and you wonder what could have been if we had stayed together.

DP: Why do you call Kirk Rueter "Woody"?
RN: You know "Toy Story"? The Woody doll -- that's him.
DP: Does he appreciate the nickname?
RN: He loves it -- you know, he really does. Everybody calls him that, and he's a guy who's always happy. I mean, he's one of the biggest gamers on the team and he's a competitor like no other from BP to being on the mound. He's a competitor, but he's always happy-go-lucky and he gives you 110 percent every day. When he's out of the mound, it's just a joy to watch -- he loves it.
DP: Any other good nicknames on the team?
RN: That's about the best one.
DP: Does Barry Bonds have one?
RN: Um, no.
DP: Wait a minute -- it sounded like you have one. You just can't tell me.
RN: No, no. I like Barry. There's not many other nicknames, really.
DP: Am I making you squirm with the Bonds question?
RN: No, because I get along with Barry, so I don't mind talking about him.
DP: But you know the perception. He hits home run No. 500 and the bat girl's out there to greet him -- but nobody else is. Now that tells me everything I need to know.
RN: Yes.
DP: I don't have to read between the lines to know ...
RN: I was down in the bullpen warming up to go into the game.
DP: OK, so you couldn't greet him. But nobody else had a legitimate excuse like you did.
RN: Yes.
DP: Is there part of you that says, he just won't get it -- he'll never understand this. Or is there part of you that says, Barry doesn't care and doesn't want to understand this.
RN: I think a little of both. ... I think he doesn't regret anything he does and he plays the game hard and, you know, he puts up the numbers -- you can't deny him that.
DP: But he's missing out on being the leader of this team. I mean, you can lead by example, but even by example I wonder if he's truly leading you guys. To me, he's just a phenomenon with you guys ... if I took a poll on who's the team leader, Barry's not going to finish in the top five, is he?
RN: No.
RN: But you know what? If he helps us win, I think there are enough guys in this clubhouse who have the ability to lead. Some guys are just quiet, some guys sit in the corner and some guys just go out and play, and if there's enough other guys around who can be leaders, as long as he helps us win, that's a big part.

DP: Is it true that you guys consult Rich Aurilia whenever you don't understand something on "The Sopranos"?
RN: We try to -- he's the only one who understands that stuff.
DP: Is he connected?
RN: Not that I know of.
DP: So just because he's Italian, he understands what they're saying?
RN: Probably. Somehow, someway, he knows. If not, he knows somebody who knows.

DP: Any funny high school stories about J.T. Snow?
RN: No. He was the all-around stud in high school.
DP: Yes, but that means people probably hated him because he was perfect.
RN: No, no. Everybody kind of looked up to him. He was a little straight and narrow. You know, he did his sports stuff, but he was looked up to.
DP: What's J.T. stand for?
RN: Jack Thomas.
DP: When's the last time you called him that?
RN: I call him that sometimes -- not all the time, but I do call him that.
RN: You call him Jack.
DP: Yes.
DP: Hey Jack Thomas. That sounds like something his mother would say to him: "Jack Thomas, you get in here."

DP: Which celebrity breakup has upset you the most?
RN: Oh, geez.
DP: You've got Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid, Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin. Was there one that you said, man, that hurts, or I understand that one, or why did that happen?
RN: Probably Tom Cruise.
DP: And that affected you just a little bit?
RN: I don't know if it affected me, but I don't know why.
DP: Meg Ryan-Dennis Quaid didn't hit you?
RN: I don't know. I think Tom Cruise is a little bigger.

DP: What's the best unknown thing about Pac Bell. Any secrets there?
RN: It's a good pitcher's park. That what you're looking for?
DP: No, no -- secrets. Like, is there a secret door? Is there a wind tunnel or something? I talked to (former Cubs first baseman) Mark Grace, and he says there are lots of secrets about Wrigley. I was wondering if you had any with Pac Bell.
RN: Well, someone said there's some panties in the huge glove out in left field, but I don't know about that. Who knows.
DP: There are panties in the glove?
RN: I don't know. That's the myth, but I don't know if it's true.
DP: You never went out there.
RN: No.

DP: Best reliever ever named Rob.
RN: I don't know. There's not a whole lot of relievers named Rob, are there?
DP: There's one big reliever -- a former reliever.
RN: Who?
DP: Rob Dibble.
RN: Oh, Dibble. Yes.
DP: Oh, come on ... I'm going to play this for him and he's going to absolutely -- he's going to be crushed. He told me that you looked up to him, that he was your idol.
RN: I was his idol.
DP: No, he was your idol. RN: He was a guy, when I came up through the minor leagues and was just getting close to the big leagues, I watched him. He was crazy out there. Tearing his shirt off and throwing bats up on the backstop and firing balls all over the place. He was fun to watch, and yes, he was one of the best "Robs" out there.
DP: But you haven't had any of those self-imploding moments, have you?
RN: No, not really on camera, no.
DP: And did you take apart, you know, locker rooms?
RN: No.
DP: Have you had meltdowns?
RN: Yes, a little bit. I'll break a bat or two. Throw a chair or two. But nothing that's, you know, really that destructible.

DP: Do you ever apologize for blowing a save?
RN: No.
DP: No?
RN: Well, nobody thinks I'm trying to go out there and blow a save. Everybody realizes that I take my game seriously, and when I blow a save everybody knows it affects me -- so I think everybody realizes, hey, it's a long season. You're going to have bad days, you're going to have good days. ... It's one of those things where a lot of things probably could have gone differently in that game, and it just happened to be that I didn't get three outs in the ninth.

DP: Jay Leno or David Letterman?
RN: Uh, Letterman.
DP: The last movie you saw.
RN: I can't even think of one. I've rented a couple lately.
DP: Anything good?
RN: Nothing real good.
DP: You're trying to be boring, aren't you?
RN: No, I'm really not.

DP: What's the most pain you've ever felt?
RN: I haven't had a lot of pain, knock on wood.
DP: So, no physical pain ... what about mental pain?
RN: I think blowing a game in San Diego -- it was two outs, 0-2 and a three-run lead.
DP: That's the one pitch you want back?
RN: Yes -- well, there's a couple of them. I've had a couple of them like that, but yes, that was probably the worst.

DP: Do you ever get bothered by a home-run trot?
RN: Yes, a little bit. I won't watch him, but you kind of know how long it takes.
DP: So slow is worse than, say, Bonds and his pirouette at home or Sammy with his little hop. It's how slow they go?
RN: Well, I think it depends on who it is, if it's somebody who's gotten one hit off me and that was the one hit. I think that bothers me more, you know. ... If it takes someone an extra-long time to get around the bases, you kind of keep it in the back of your mind for next time.

DP: You're in the bullpen. If Bonds hits No. 71 and you catch it, what are you doing with it?
RN: I've got to give it to him, but there'll be a little negotiating.
DP: Now you would have to initiate that, right?
RN: I don't think he would even ask for it. But I might say, "Hey Barry, I've got your ball" -- and walk away from him. Let him stew on it a little bit.
DP: So you would pimp him?
RN: I'd probably walk around with it in my back pocket for a couple of days. Play catch with it a couple of times.
DP: You could say, "I'm going to give this to Jeff Kent. I think maybe his kids would like to play with this ball. Down on the farm, you know."
RN: Yeah, maybe kick it around out there.
DP: That should prompt an offer.

DP: Do you treat your glove better than you treat some members of your family?
RN: No.
DP: OK. Because Rob Dibble has a problem with how people treat their gloves.
RN: It's just a glove.
DP: Oh, OK.

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