Nakken's historic jersey comes to Cooperstown

Written by: Bill Francis

Alyssa Nakken has been called an inspiration, a trailblazer and a role model. Now, after having broken down barriers and overcoming huge obstacles, a part of her storied legacy will forever call Cooperstown home.

In January 2020, Nakken was named to the staff of new San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler, making her the first woman to serve in a full-time coaching capacity in Major League Baseball history. She later donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum the Giants jersey she wore when her team opened the 2020 season at the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 23.

“It’s a little surreal, to be honest,” Nakken said. “The words don’t even do it justice, but it’s a great honor to be in a position to make a donation like that. It goes beyond my wildest dreams, so I’m still trying to find the appropriate words to describe how it feels. But I think it’s also a symbol of all of the massive steps that so many women and men have taken to help pave this path and open this door.”

Giants clubhouse and equipment manager Brad Grems shared with Nakken back in March, during Spring Training, that she would need an extra uniform because the Hall of Fame wanted the first one.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, wow. OK,’” she recalled. “Then we went into a shutdown and came back in July and he said the Hall of Fame confirmed that they still wanted the jersey that I wore on Opening Day.”

The donated jersey, a light gray polyester size 40, has “San Francisco” in orange and black emblazoned across the front and “Nakken” and her uniform number “92” in orange and black on the back.

But the jersey is more than just a part of a uniform. It represents a unique baseball story that future generations of visitors and family members will be able to experience.

“I’m kind of emotional thinking about that. That’s pretty crazy,” a choked up Nakken said. “It’s a symbol of hard work, it’s a symbol of dedication, and it’s a symbol of a lot of ups and downs. And I’m not just talking about my journey. This is for all of the women in baseball and for all of the women who wanted to get in baseball and had the door shut in their face simply because of their gender.

“It’s also a symbol of the ally-ship we have from a lot of men in this industry and a lot of men in the Giants organization specifically who have supported me since I was an intern and really helped me grow up in the organization.”

In a statement when Nakken and Mark Hallberg were hired as assistant coaches in mid-January, Kapler said: “Alyssa and Mark are highly respected members of the organization and I’m delighted that they will now focus their talents on helping to build a winning culture in the clubhouse. In every organization, environment affects performance, and baseball clubhouses are no different. That’s why in addition to assisting the rest of the coaching staff on the field, Mark and Alyssa will focus on fostering a clubhouse culture that promotes high performance through, among other attributes, a deep sense of collaboration and team.”

Nakken, 30, began with the Giants in 2014 as a baseball operations intern before taking on a later role with the team regarding health and wellness initiatives.

She was a star first baseman on the Sacramento State softball team from 2009 to 2012, where she was a three-time all-Big Sky selection, a four-time Academic All American and the 2012 conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Nakken earned her Master’s Degree in Sport Management from the University of San Francisco in 2015.

“When Kap was hired and was building his new staff, he was looking to diversify and my hiring was a big step that he took,” Nakken said. “My story is more than baseball. It’s about the type of people that I surrounded myself with and worked with and worked for. I think that’s really what set the foundation for me to take this next step in my career. It wasn’t necessarily because of the ladder that I took to get to this role. If you look at my background, it’s not a traditional coaching background because I didn’t know this opportunity existed.

“I just thought that when I was done playing I just had to find my way into the business side of an organization. It never occurred to me that an on-field role would be available. I think it’s honestly because I never saw it.

“Now that my jersey is at the Hall of Fame, there are a lot of other men and women – women in particular – who will be able to see that this is possible and, yes, see that they can, too, pursue an on-field role for a Major League Baseball team. But also pursue other things that they’ve never seen before.”

While Nakken is primarily tasked with assisting Giants players with outfield play and base running strategies, she said her role as an assistant coach is pretty much exactly what it says – assisting all of the coaches in every aspect of the game.

“I’d say I wear a lot of hats,” she said. “There are days that are focused solely on game strategy with our manager. Pregame I work closely with our outfielders and giving them whatever it is they need to get ready for the game that day. As we’re getting ready for each game, it’s really more individualized and understanding what each guy needs from an outfield perspective and a base running perspective.

“It’s a really awesome role for me in my first year. To be somebody who gets to work alongside each coach and learn their strategies and learn their vision has been really eye opening. My mentality has always been how can I help or how can I support. So to be able to be that resource that our coaching staff and our players can lean on is the best way I can describe what my responsibilities are as a coach for this team.”

As for her ultimate plans, Nakken is overjoyed with where she’s at but understands the future can change in an instant.

“I think it’s an important question because when you have a goal in mind you take the appropriate steps to grow into reaching that goal,” Nakken said. “Quite honestly, five years ago I would have never thought I’d be in this role. With my current role in having a hand in all aspects of the game is something that I really love, so I don’t see myself just focusing on just one area. I really see myself continuing to develop in all areas of the game.

“I love this game and I really love this organization. To continue to grow in the game, and with this organization, would make me very happy. But I know that there are curveballs that are thrown at you all the time. My goal is to have this same mentality of making sure I’m out of my comfort zone because that’s really where I’m seeing the best of me come out. And making sure I’m continuing to surround myself with people that will help me grow. We’ll see where the next steps take me but I think being in a role that I get to wear a lot of hats is something that I want to make sure I continue to do.”

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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