Like father, like son: Nevin seeks revival in Detroit

Detroit Tigers

LAKELAND, Fla. — Tyler Nevin attended his first Major League game at Tiger Stadium in 1997. He was a baby at the time. He only knows of it from his parents, including his father, who was on the field that day.

Phil Nevin was a former top overall Draft pick fighting for his Major League career at the time, having been traded from Houston to Detroit in 1995 after just 18 games as an Astro. The Tigers gave him his first regular playing time, and he flashed some of the power that made him a promising prospect.

The Tigers traded Phil Nevin to the Angels after the 1997 season. He eventually made it big in San Diego, where Tyler Nevin grew up. But when Phil began his coaching career as a manager in Detroit’s farm system, Tyler spent parts of a few summers in Erie, Pa., and Toledo, Ohio, to visit his dad, hanging out in Minor League clubhouses where prospects like Nick Castellanos were trying to make it. He also spent a couple of  springs in Lakeland at the Tigers’ Spring Training facility, sneaking into the batting cages after players had cleared out.

“It looks a little different,” Tyler said as he surveyed the Major League clubhouse. “But it’s kind of cool to see it come full circle.”

Like Phil Nevin, Tyler is a former first-round pick, drafted eight years ago by the Rockies in the compensation round. Like Phil, Tyler has had some brief looks the past couple years. Like his dad, he’s a Tigers acquisition looking for an opportunity.

If Detroit can be the springboard for him that it was for his dad, then the blessing will be more than sentimental. With an open competition at third base, the opportunity is there.

“I’m just really excited for the opportunity to maybe get some more consistent at-bats and prove what I’m capable of,” Tyler said. “That’s all I can hope for, really, is to get that opportunity and hopefully earn my way into that spot.”

The younger Nevin, 25, had five stints with Baltimore over two seasons. He has flashed his pull power, including an upper-deck drive at Toronto for his first big league homer in 2021. He got a couple of weeks last season as Baltimore’s regular third baseman.

So far, however, his most famous moment in the Majors came when he played against his father — now the Angels’ manager — in July in Baltimore. It was a cool scene that represented big steps for both of them — Tyler as a player, Phil as a coach. They had lived out each other’s journey together all along the way.

“My dad, for most of the time I remember him playing, he was in San Diego,” Tyler said. “He was gone during road trips, but we lived there in the offseason, so we saw him a lot. When he started coaching, he was gone for longer periods of time. That was kind of a different reality for our family, one we weren’t used to. So even if he had only one off-day, he would fly home after a game and red-eye back, just so he could spend 12 hours at home.”

That’s the great wrinkle in this. Tyler is one of many Major League sons in the game today, but he’s also the son of a manager.

“Phil and I texted back and forth before camp,” said Tigers manager A.J. Hinch, who played against Phil for years. “It’s not awkward at all; it’s just a reminder that we’ve been in the game a long time. …

“I asked [Phil] his opinion. I mean, it’s his son, so I know it’s biased. But as a manager and a coach myself, I know that I’m hardest on my girls with their sporting events. Phil didn’t hold anything back on Tyler’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Nevin did not get his dad’s old number in Detroit; pitcher Casey Mize has that (12). But he’ll wear the number of one of his dad’s beloved teammates. He’ll be the first to wear No. 18 since former Tigers coach and outfielder Kimera Bartee passed away in December 2021.

“When I originally picked it, I was given a list of numbers, and it just stuck out the most to me,” Nevin said. “And then I was notified of its significance after that. I’m honored to be the first one who wears it again since his passing. He played with my dad for a couple years. I will wear it with pride.”

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