Nix had been assigned to the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League earlier that week. He’d made a decent enough appearance Friday night, then spent Saturday with the team for a day game. After his work was done, he met up with a few friends for a night of drinking. He left his car behind, planning to take an Uber back to his temporary home.
Well into the early hours of Sunday morning, Nix and fellow Padres pitching prospect Tom Cosgrove got out of their ride in front of a house with the exact same street address as the home where he was staying in Peoria. However, while the address matched, it was not the right house.
“I ended up at the wrong place and, being as intoxicated as I was, I didn’t even know,” said Nix in a wide-ranging phone interview on his way to spring training and follow-up conversations last week. “I just thought I was home.”
In his inebriated state and in the homogeneous landscape of West Valley subdivisions, when the key didn’t open the front door – “I always parked in the garage and never even went through the front door,” – Nix figured he’d go around back.
The sound of drunk men in the yard was quite enough to wake and scare the home’s resident, an off-duty police officer. He found Nix trying to reach through the dog door and unlock it. Understandably upset, he kicked Nix in the head, briefly knocking him out.
“Obviously now, we know we’re not in the right place now. News flash! This isn’t my house.”
In the confusion, Nix and Cosgrove tried to run away. The homeowner, whose wife had been unable to get his handgun out of the holster, instead used a Taser to shoot Nix in the back.
“That would have blown through my chest if that had been a .45, so I’m pretty lucky. I’m pretty lucky to have just gotten the copper wires.”
Drunk and dazed from being knocked out and hit with a stun gun, Nix fled with Cosgrove.
They only made it a few short blocks before police found them sitting on the curb. They were arrested and spent 36 hours in Maricopa County Jail.
None of that, though, was the low point.
“Everything that’s happened after has been the worst part. Forget the getting my ass kicked, going to jail, all that. How the media portrayed it. Getting kicked off the 40-man. Not getting invited to spring training. It’s been humiliating.”
The Orange County native had already navigated one major detour in his professional career. The Astros drafted Nix out of high school in 2014 and agreed to a seven-figure signing bonus to get him to bypass a commitment to UCLA. Nix was already working with a mid-90s fastball but was seen as a development project. Given where the Astros were in their organizational rebuild, the talent was worth gambling on.
Because Nix worked with an agent, the NCAA ruled him ineligible to compete for UCLA, so he headed to the IMG Academy in Florida for a year before re-entering the draft. The Padres, without a first-round pick in 2015, selected Nix in the third round and agreed to an overslot deal.
Nix has spoken honestly in the past about the self-doubt and anxiety the experience created. He’s been a frequent champion of the work sports psychologist Jason Amoroso does in his role as the Padres’ Director of Professional Development.
When asked how that situation compared with his current self-created predicament, he answered quickly and definitively.
“This was dramatically worse.”
The competition heading into Spring Training in 2019 was wide open for the Padres. Nix, who made his big league debut the August before, had a clear path to the Majors.
But whatever doors might have been open for Nix quickly swung shut. In mid-March, Nix felt a twinge in his elbow. A week later, pain cut short a throwing session and an MRI showed a strain of his UCL. After consulting with team medical personnel and renowned orthopaedist Neal ElAttrache, Nix opted for platelet-rich plasma treatment and rehab.
The non-surgical option worked for Nix. He began his throwing program eight weeks after treatment, got on a mound five weeks later, and made his first rehab appearance in Arizona on July 26. Despite avoiding surgery, it was a far cry from whatever he’d hoped for in the 2019 season.
“Being injured and stuff is never easy and mentally I was just not in a good place for most of the year.”
In August, he made a pair of starts for Lake Elsinore and then two more for El Paso. He allowed four earned runs over 19.2 innings with a strong 23:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
It appeared Nix could be ready to bolster a flagging big league rotation as rosters expanded. Instead, he was sent to join the Sod Poodles for the Texas League playoffs.
“I kind of felt like I was throwing well enough and I knew in my heart that I put everything I had into that rehab process to get back to San Diego. When it didn’t happen it was devastating, and mentally that just continued the struggle I’d gone through all year.”
In his second outing at Amarillo, with the wind blowing out at the already hitter-friendly HODGETOWN, he got pounded for nine earned runs in just 1.2 innings. It put a final crowning ignominy on a lost year.
“Mentally, I felt like I needed a break and to finish the year since they weren’t going to call me back up. But the team and I decided I would head back to Arizona for another month or so to throw in Arizona Fall League.”
It was against this backdrop that Nix arrived in Arizona, made his first appearance with the Peoria Javelinas, then made plans to go out.
“I wanted to blow off some steam one night with some buddies,” said Nix. “I wasn’t really [partying] off the field. When I was at rehab, I would drink like once or twice a month. But when I would go out and drink, I would drink to excess. I wasn’t sitting at home drinking my sorrows away. I don’t drink when I go out to dinner, I don’t have casual beers – I don’t even keep alcohol in the house because I’m not a big drinker.”
By the time he was released from jail, MLB and the Padres were already aware of the situation. Padres assistant GM Fred Uhlman Jr. called soon after.
“I told them exactly what happened. At the end of the day, … I thought I was trying to get into my house. I took an Uber [to be responsible] when I was drinking. So, I just told them what happened. They understand, but they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do and I get that.”
A month later, back home in California, Nix learned that ‘what they had to do’ was designate him for assignment to move him off the 40-man roster. No other team claimed him.
“I wasn’t sleeping, I was having really, really bad anxiety. I wasn’t even really going to the gym much at that point because I didn’t want to go into the facility and see a bunch of players I knew and get asked a bunch of questions. It was pretty difficult.”
In the midst of wrestling with what his actions in Arizona had cost him, Nix contacted Amoroso.
“I hadn’t slept in days and I called him and he happened to be in Orange County and drove over to my house later. … That’s really where things started to turn around for me.”
The court accepted Nix’s plea deal – guilty of a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespass – a few weeks after his 24th birthday in January. Under the terms of the agreement, he received 18 months of probation, paid $3,000 restitution for personal and property damage, and agreed to alcohol counseling and testing. With that, Nix could turn his attention to the future.
Driving across the Arizona desert to report to minor league spring training in early March, Nix feels better than he has been in a long time.
“Physically, I feel the best I’ve felt since 2016. The groin stuff’s a year and some change in the past. My arm feels good – elbow feels good, the shoulder feels good. I lost a bunch of weight last year and I feel really healthy right now.”
But, of course, the questions he’ll face aren’t about progress with his pitches (“I’ve worked a lot on my slider and my curveball’s back.”) or the 40 pounds he’s taken off over the last 12 months.
“It is what it is and I’m ready to wear it. [I just have to] go out there and be the best me that I can. Hopefully, they’ll see that and if they don’t see it, somebody else does.”
And any jokes whispered in the clubhouse or taunts from fans?
“I feel like you can’t worry about it. Do you know how many messages I got after this telling me basically I’m a piece of crap? I made an honest mistake. I just feel like you’ve got to just – it’s sad, but you’ve got to just not care what other people think. Obviously, there are exceptions. There’s people who truly do have your best interests in mind, and you just have to know who that is.”
It’s unclear where – or even if – Nix will be pitching in April. The Padres have many high-profile young arms who will be in the upper levels of the system. Based on talent, Nix belongs in the mix with them for a spot in the El Paso rotation. But he has work to do to show that October 6, 2019, was not the defining day of his career.
“I’m just looking to live a drama-free life this year.”
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