Few people have a life story more interesting or unexpected than Bowdoin Equipment Manager Chap Nelson’s—or “Chappy” as he’s commonly known. From dreams of playing major league baseball in Florida, to becoming Colby’s assistant baseball coach while still a college student himself to his current freelance work as a professional scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers, there is only one thing as big as Chappy’s personality: his network of friends.
Chappy began his college career at the University of Tampa, a top college for MLB recruits. Just last year, four players from Tampa were drafted by MLB teams. In addition, Florida’s warm weather is a draw for major league teams as it allows them to play outside year round.
Standing at about 5-feet-6-inches, Chappy is smaller than most professional athletes. Although he had a strong left handed throwing arm and quick reflexes in the infield, his height prevented him from pursuing a career in Florida. Yet it hasn’t prevented him from enjoying the game under the Florida sun.
“I go down to the West Palm area about twice a year,” he said. “That’s where I hang out because there are five baseball teams right in that area. I can see two games a day.”
Originally from Waterville, Chappy was familiar with Colby’s athletic program at a young age. When he considered transferring to a new college at the start of his sophomore year, it drew him back to Maine. One of his childhood friends was the daughter of Colby’s athletic director. Friendly with the head coach of the baseball team, Chappy asked to be the team manager.
“I think I felt then that baseball wasn’t in my future in terms of playing,” he said. “Coaching was a good way to stay with it. I worked under a really good coach not only as a student manager but as an assistant baseball coach for him. I learned a lot from him, just the way he dealt with people and ran practices.”
After graduating from Colby with a degree in Administrative Science, Chappy attended The Ohio State University for a masters degree in Sports Management. He knew he eventually wanted to manage a professional sports team, but he could not let the opportunity to be Colby’s Equipment Manager pass him by. Thirty-one years later, he left Colby and headed to Bowdoin.
It seems obvious to point out, but it’s not common for equipment managers at small NESCAC schools to rise to prominent positions on a professional sports team. Yet the unusual path Chappy has wandered down has unwittingly deposited him on track to becoming a professional scout for the Dodgers.
“We had a pitcher at Colby [who] started off as an infielder,” said Chappy. “Once he got out of school, he talked for awhile with the Red Sox and now he’s the Director of Pro-Personnel for the Dodgers.”
Its through this connection that Chappy hopes to win a permanent scouting position in pro-baseball. In his summers off, he travels across the country to follow professional teams for a week at a time.
“[A few years ago,] The Red Sox had this hot prospect. I saw him hit 22 times and out of that he struck out 12,” said Chappy. “He was a good guy, a Cuban they’d signed for big, big money. I knew he was going to be good, but they rushed him. They got him up to Boston [where] he struck out like 12 times in a row so, you know, they sat him on the bench for the rest of the year.”
That hot prospect is the current second baseman for the Chicago White Sox, Yoan Moncada. Chappy scouted him in 2016 after Moncada had signed a $31.5 million dollar deal with the Boston Red Sox and was named the seventh best major league prospect. This year, though, he led the MLB in strikeouts, so there could be some merit to Chappy’s claim. It’s important for scouts to be able to not just identify talent, but to know when a player is ready to move to the next level.
Without spending over 30 years working within the Colby and Bowdoin athletic departments, Chappy may have never made the connections he needed to enter the professional baseball world. As his story shows, there is never a time when it’s impossible to follow one’s dreams.