DENVER (AP) – Pardon Chris Nelson if he takes a wrong turn inside the concrete hallways of Coors Field, heading straight toward the home clubhouse instead of veering left with his new team.
Hey, old routines are hard to break.
The New York Yankees infielder was a member of the Colorado Rockies until nine days ago, when he was designated for assignment to make room for prized prospect Nolan Arenado. Nelson was later traded to the Yankees for a player to be named or cash.
No hurt feelings, though. The player nicknamed “Nellie” understands the situation.
He’s looking forward to his return as the Rockies welcome in the Yankees – and their fleet of fans – for a three-game series starting Tuesday night. All of Nelson’s belongings are still in the Mile High City.
A lot of his friends, too.
“I enjoyed my time in Colorado,” Nelson said. “My teammates. Great fans. The mountain view is beautiful. Just a nice place.”
As he makes himself at home with the Yankees, Nelson also is searching for a new place to live. He’s been living out of a suitcase until a real estate agent can find him something more permanent. The former first-round pick of the Rockies was caught off guard by the move, calling it “very surprising.”
He’s quickly adapting, though, because there’s no other choice.
A solid contact hitter with the Rockies, Nelson is still looking for his first hit after going 0-for-7 to begin his career in the famed New York pinstripes. This could be as good of place as any to break out of his mini-slump, considering he’s a lifetime .316 hitter at Coors Field.
His buddies turned rivals – at least for the next few days – are delighted that Nelson landed with the Yankees. After all, “that was always a team that he loved,” outfielder Dexter Fowler said.
Nelson’s not alone in his childhood fondness for the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers were also a favorite of first-year manager Walt Weiss, who grew up about 30 miles from Yankees Stadium. His dad loved the Yankees, so naturally he did as well.
“I think it’s always a pretty cool atmosphere when the Yankees are in town,” Weiss said.
Like Nelson, Weiss will have some catching up to do. He and Yankees manager Joe Girardi were teammates in Colorado for two seasons in the mid-1990s.
“It’s been a little while, but it will be good to look across there and see Joe,” Weiss said. “He’s handled himself real well in that situation.”
The last time the Yankees were in town was 2007, with the Rockies sweeping the three-game series. The Yankees will certainly have plenty of support – they always do, no matter where they go. The three contests are close to sellouts, with a good portion showing up decked out in New York garb.
“They’re the Yankees and they’ll always be the Yankees and there is an aura that goes along with that,” Weiss said. “That’s OK. We’ll have a lot of purple pinstripes, too.”
These days, the Yankees are missing some of their star power, with Alex Rodriguez (hip) and Derek Jeter (ankle) not expected back until after All-Star break.
That’s a little bit of a letdown for Rockies infielder Jordan Pacheco, who was hoping to meet Jeter. Pacheco grew up in New Mexico and really didn’t follow a particular team, so much as individual players. His favorites were Chipper Jones and Jeter.
“But there’s plenty of other guys on the Yankees (I can meet),” Pacheco said. “I’m glad I’ll get to see Chris Nelson. It will be good seeing him again.”
Although the Yankees have been slowed by injuries, they’re still hovering around first place in the AL East. That’s hardly a surprise to Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, whose team took two of three from the Rockies over the weekend.
“They (Yankees) pitch well. They pitch really well. That’s one thing they don’t get enough credit for,” Maddon said. “Their starters are good. Their bullpen is very good, so that’s one thing.
“I know they’re missing their big names, but they’ve got very competent people in their stead. … You’re going to see something different. You’re not going to see the normal marquee names, but don’t be lulled into the sense that they can’t hit because the names aren’t big enough. They can still hit but their pitching is real good.”
Hiroki Kuroda (4-1) will be on the mound for the Yankees on Tuesday, while the Rockies counter with Jorge De La Rosa (2-3). The lefty is 2-0 as a starter against New York in his career and hasn’t allowed a run in more than 11 innings.
“It’s going to be exciting to see (the Yankees) come into Coors Field,” Fowler said. “They’re a team with a lot of history.”
Nelson is returning to a team he has a lot of history with. The ninth overall pick in the 2004 amateur draft, Nelson got off to a slow start this season, hitting just .242. He was deemed expendable once Arenado was ready.
“It was a surprise, but what can you do?” Nelson said. “It’s been crazy, but you’ve got to settle down.”
– By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum in New York and AP freelancer Dennis Georgatos contributed.
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)