Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Elder grad vying for Reds bullpen

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SARASOTA, Fla. — To outsiders, Chris Nichting's pursuit of a major-league job might seem futile. But his pursuit of opportunity isn't.

        Nichting's13-year route through professional baseball has brought him to the Reds, the Elder High School graduate's hometown team. As a right-handed reliever, only an unlikely combination of circumstances would allow him to join a bullpen that's expected to include Danny Graves, Scott Sullivan, Mark Wohlers, John Riedling and possibly Scott Williamson.

        Nichting knows this. So he not only conditions himself physically but prepares himself mentally by reviewing his personal set of baseball fundamentals.

        “You have to know the game isn't always about ability,” Nichting said Monday. “It's about being in the right place at the right time sometimes. It's about having somebody in your corner. It's about every time you come over as a new free agent, no matter how well you think you've pitched, you have to overcome players drafted by the organization and people like that ...

        “You notice the word "fair' isn't in the contract. Hard work does not guarantee you get to the big leagues. And be prepared in case you get the chance.”

        Nichting's outlook was shaped by playing for six organizations and undergoing five operations since 1988. He has appeared in 20 major league games.

        The injuries that sidelined him in 1990-91 and most of the '93 and '96 seasons compromised his skills.

        But he has remained good enough to bounce between Triple-A and the majors since 1995.

        Few players maintain such perseverance for so long.

        “I think a lot of guys are very surprised to hear I'm almost 35 years old,” said Nichting, who turns that age May 13. “I think most guys think I'm in my upper 20s. That's good for me. It's not that I can fool everybody. I still have to put my date of birth on my resume. But if can still perform like a 28-year-old, I'm not going to be too concerned.”

        Nichting is coming off an outstanding season. He converted a franchise-record 26 of 27 save chances with Cleveland's Triple-A Buffalo affiliate and earned a September promotion to the Indians.

        Reds manager Bob Boone won't rule out Nichting, despite his age.

        “There have been a lot of great stories throughout the history of the game,” said Boone. “You never know. It's about being in the right place at the right time and getting the opportunity. But the game's not fair. Everybody doesn't get the same opportunity. The diligence those guys show has to do with, "I just want to keep myself in position so when I do get the chance, I'm right.' And that's where the great stories come from.”

        Nichting could have stayed with the Indians organization, but he believed their collection of young relievers or guaranteed contracts would have kept him in Buffalo through the year.

        Though the Reds' bullpen has a similar profile, Nichting envisions scenarios in which he might be summoned to the majors. After all, the Reds used 17 different relievers last year.

        Besides, he hasn't resigned himself to beginning the season with Triple-A Louisville yet.

        “I've never taken that attitude. I'm here to give anybody who wants it a good run,” he said. “It's just the competitive spirit.”


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