Alyssa Nakken wanted new challenge, will make MLB history with Giants


Editor's note: This story originally was published on Feb. 5.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Alyssa Nakken will be in the spotlight. That tends to happen when you're making history

Nakken will be a focus when the Giants take the field in spring training for the first time. She'll have extra eyes on her when she hits grounders to Brandon Crawford for the first time, or throws batting practice to Buster Posey. When the players and all members of the staff line up at Dodger Stadium on March 26, there will be extra interest in the assistant coach who will become the first woman to be on a big league staff. 

The Giants know all of this, and they're preparing for it. When the team gathers for its annual media day on Friday, Nakken will meet with reporters separately from the rest of the new 13-person coaching staff. 

The Giants know you can't ignore the fact that Nakken is making history -- except that's exactly what she and Gabe Kapler did during a monthlong conversation that was, unbeknownst to Nakken, an interview to do something that's never been done before. 

"Never once did Gabe talk about being the first or even being female," Nakken said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area's Amy Gutierrez. "We needed an All-Star on this staff to just help kind of guide the ship because all of these coaches are new except for Ron Wotus and I've been in the organization for five years.

"I know the ins and outs and who to talk to. I've given blood, sweat and tears to this organization already, literally, and I'm so excited to continue that."

One day soon, this is hopefully all commonplace in the game. The Yankees hired a female hitting coach in their minor league system -- Kapler tried to hire her away late last year -- and more are on the way. But someone had to get the ball rolling in the big leagues, and Nakken, a former Sacramento State softball player and Giants employee for the last five years, did so without even knowing it. 

In November, as Kapler was working day and night to put together a coaching staff, Nakken was doing the same in preparation for the Spartan Race that would be held at Oracle Park. She passed the new manager in a service tunnel one day and asked a simple question: "How are you holding up?"

Nakken knew Kapler had an overwhelming amount of work ahead of him. The two chatted about the importance of sleep and taking care of yourself in busy times, and that led to conversations with the baseball operations staff, many of whom Nakken had already worked for or with. 

The Giants have put together a coaching staff that's unlike any the game has ever seen. It's young and remarkably inexperienced at the big league level, but full of minds that are inquisitive and overflowing with new ideas about how to approach the game. Over and over again, Kapler has come back to the same tenet. He wanted diversity of thought on his coaching staff, and as Kapler, Farhan Zaidi, Scott Harris and others talked about options, Nakken was brought into the fold to discuss new ideas. 

The Giants thought about the different perspective a softball coach might be able to bring, and Nakken, who was playing travel ball since she was nine years old, gave her perspective. Kapler reached out separately and asked Nakken for her thoughts on clubhouse culture. The conversations lasted about a month. 

"I honestly didn't even know the interview was happening," Nakken said. "It was just me having conversations with Gabe and some of the staff about my thoughts on the clubhouse and the team and how do we put the best team on the field every single night."

Nakken knows what that ideal situation looks like. She had fortuitous timing when she came to the Giants in 2014, a process that started with an interview in front of 10 men from the baseball operations department. She began as a baseball operations intern, filling in gaps wherever they were found, whether that was helping with the draft, international scouting or preparation for that season's trade deadline. 

When the Giants got deep into a World Series run, Nakken took on more work with the administrative side with the organization, helping to plan postseason travel and World Series parties while still working to help make sure scouting reports were ready before each series. She stayed on the business side and was instrumental in running the Giants Race series that has become a staple for the organization, but last year, Nakken started to feel like something was missing.

Nakken felt she was ready for a new challenge, and she started to think about new opportunities -- previously unexplored opportunities -- when Kapler came in and began overhauling the staff.

"I knew like, OK, I think I can make something happen here," Nakken said. "This organization has done so much for me, I don't want to leave and go somewhere else. This is an opportunity to jump in, be that impact player for the team and really take a bigger step. During that time, that was right when Gabe Kapler was forming his new staff and getting a wide range of voices and background and experience to be on his staff, and we had a conversation about that."

Kapler's search was intense and exhaustive. Over the holidays and into the new year, he found that one of his final hires had been in the organization all along. Kapler called Nakken one day and asked if he could meet her for coffee after she went surfing in the morning. The two walked through the Outer Sunset discussing the direction of the organization. 

Nakken felt she was ready to move back to the baseball operations side of the organization. Kapler made an offer she couldn't refuse. 

"Gabe is taking a huge leap," Nakken said. "Not just with me, but this entire coaching staff. These minds of the coaching staff, they're brilliant, it's the most brilliant coaching staff. Sure, it's not the traditional lineup of coaches, but this is so exciting and it's so rad because it's literally the most brilliant people I've ever talked to."

The Giants announced Nakken's addition to the staff on Jan. 16, and the rest of the month was a whirlwind. She had spent weeks telling her parents, who took her to her first Giants game when she was just three weeks old, all about the conversations she was becoming involved in, but Nakken has been so busy with a staff that's preparing for spring training that she hasn't gotten to visit them since the historic hire. 

A native of Woodland, a small town near Sacramento, the 29-year-old is hard at work preparing for a role that also is relatively new to the game. She will assist on the field during workouts, but primarily will be behind the scenes, taking part in defensive positioning meetings, helping the analytics staff, working with the hitting coaches and having conversations with players.

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During games, Nakken expects to primarily be working in the batting cage behind the dugout. She won't be one of the seven uniformed coaches sitting with the players.

Over time, the plan is for that role to grow. Nakken said she hopes to build enough trust with players that conversations about swing mechanics and adjustments soon become commonplace. But for now, this will be new for all sides. 

The Giants didn't introduce Nakken as a female coach. She's simply an assistant coach, another piece to help the organization return to prominence. But there's no downplaying how important this all will be for a sport that was far behind the times. 

"It's a unique situation, for sure," Nakken said. "If I went and applied for a job with the A's on the coaching staff, I probably wouldn't get it. But the fact that I've been with this organization, I know how it runs, this whole staff is brand new and it needs to come together and come together quickly and we have a lot of work to do.

"I'm the right person for that job, for this specific job. I'm right. I'm a good fit."

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