Matt Nandin walks away from baseball career, settles into role as Syracuse assistant softball coach

first_img Published on March 31, 2015 at 11:42 pm Contact Phil: [email protected] | @PhilDAbb Facebook Twitter Google+ Red batting gloves, a black Louisville slugger bat and a bucket of about 50 baseballs sit in a corner of Matt Nandin’s office. If it were a year ago, he’d be seizing any 20-minute opening he’d have to use them.But this spring, when the former baseball player occasionally finds downtime before Syracuse softball’s practices, there’s no vigorous push to keep his form intact as a taxing baseball season awaits.Now, when he has a baseball bat and a spare second, he just swings.“It’s more therapeutic than anything,” Nandin said. “Just to make sure I think I still know what I’m talking about.”After a six-year career playing independent league baseball that followed his four seasons suiting up for Le Moyne, Nandin has retired. The 27-year-old is ready to turn to a new chapter in his life, focusing solely on his duties as a second-year assistant softball coach with the Orange and his upcoming responsibility as a father.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textNandin and those close to him still look at his decision through a positive lens, even though he never regained the opportunity he lost to latch on with an MLB team’s organization.“I’m always going to miss it. He’s going to miss it,” said Lindsay Nandin, his wife and the SU softball program’s director of operations, about his playing career. “But he knows that in order to move forward in his career, he’d have to give up baseball.”Nandin, a former Le Moyne bat boy when his father coached there, ranked in the program’s Top 10 all time in hits when he graduated in 2009.He embraced his role as the No. 2 hitter in the order and was confident he’d done enough to follow in the footsteps of his two predecessors at shortstop — MLB draftees Andy Parrino and Michael Affronti. Nandin had worked out with the Minnesota Twins and Washington Nationals and had been in contact with his beloved New York Yankees, among others.But, 1,521 other players were taken in the 2009 MLB Draft and the 5-foot-9 Nandin was on his own to further his career.“He was probably one of the top two shortstops to ever come through here,” Le Moyne head coach Scott Cassidy said. “He just didn’t have that projectable height that a lot of the pro scouts would look at, and a lot of scouts in the Northeast don’t want to take a chance on something like that.”Nandin signed with a team in the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball — a league that typically stretches from mid-May to September — and stuck with it. Playing for four different teams in six years in the Northeast U.S., he rose to the Top 10 of the Can-Am’s all-time doubles, runs and hits categories, according to Cuse.com, but he missed out on the closest chance he ever had to making it out.A good start to the 2011 season had attracted the interest of the Nationals again and he was close to signing with them, Nandin said.But one game, a strange feeling as he rounded third base turned out to be a pulled right hamstring, the first time he’d ever suffered one. It cost him almost two months of playing time — and the Nationals needed a player that moment.“Now I have that cliché story that when I tell kids, they’re going to say, ‘Oh, yeah, sure. You got hurt,’” Nandin said. “I was hoping I’d get another opportunity but every day I got older, the window got a little smaller.”Fortunately for Nandin, he was already a season into his backup plan — coaching. Cassidy brought him into the Le Moyne staff in the fall of 2010, and so began Nandin’s balancing act between the two jobs.He connected with the players well, Cassidy said, by not only by being close to their age but by running in the gym with a parachute to improve his sprinting time and jumping in the batting cage himself — simultaneously preparing himself for his upcoming season while showing the players what he was teaching them.All along, he turned down the thought of ever coaching softball at SU, a program that includes his sister Morgan in addition to his wife. But in September 2013, Nandin had a change of heart, asked “Why not?” and made the move, shocking everyone in the process by changing sports.And in his first full season at Syracuse, Nandin did whatever he could to train for his baseball season, starting with an early-morning lift and finding 15- to 20-minute openings later in the day to long toss with Morgan, hit off the tee and take live batting practice from her or their father.Nandin’s office work was done in workout clothes and turf shoes, just so he was ready as soon as he finished being a softball coach.“I always had to be on-call with myself,” he said.Not only did he help improve the Orange’s offense as its hitting coach last year — evidenced by team program records in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage — but he’s infused pieces of baseball to the culture of the program.Syracuse is now one of the rare college softball teams that shift defenders around the diamond like a baseball team does, he said. Nandin encouraged the corner infielders to play farther back. He’s implemented drills, baseball lingo and the Orange’s tracking of quality at-bats, which he picked up from playing baseball.And now that he’s done playing, Nandin can dig in as a recruiter that can pitch his pro baseball career to prospects and as a coach with a developing ability to pitch underhanded.He’s going out on what he called a “pretty good” year in the Can-Am — staying healthy enough to play in every inning and hitting a walk-off single to spark a four-game winning streak in a seven-game championship series.“I think the time’s right,” Nandin said. “I could still play, my body I feel could hold up and keep going, but there comes a point where you’ve got to put life in perspective. And putting coaching first is what I need to do.”Until June, that is — when Lindsay Nandin is due to give birth to twin girls.It appears his bat, batting gloves and bucket of baseballs may remain in that corner of his office. 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