Photo by Isabel Thalken/Nebraska Communications

Former Husker Fish Has Worldwide Job

By Brian Rosenthal

Ask former Nebraska pitcher Steve Fish where home is, and he will tell you Marriott.

He only half jokes.

Before he arrived in Lincoln to attend the Nebraska Baseball Reunion on Friday and Saturday, Fish had been on the road, nonstop, since Jan. 10.

His itinerary went exactly like this:

Philadelphia to Los Angeles to Sydney to Guam to Sydney to Perth to Dubai to Singapore to Dubai to Perth to Dubai to Abu Dhabi to Nairobi to London to New York.

Now, to Lincoln, for a long-awaited opportunity to connect with former teammates.

“I haven’t had a chance to come back for this in 15 years,” Fish said. “It happened to work out. There was a Facebook messenger group that came through and I’m like, ‘Gosh, this finally works out.’ ”

Fish, among many jobs, is a scout for the Boston Red Sox in charge of covering Southeast Asia, parts of the Middle East, Africa and Australia, where he moved in 2008, to Perth, to become Development Manager and High-Performance Manager for Baseball Western Australia.

Fish managed a professional club, the Perth Heat of the ABL, affiliated with Major League Baseball’s winter league. Former Husker Alvie Shepherd, for instance, played there while in the Orioles’ organization. Fish won two ABL titles in three years managing the Heat.

Fish has also coached the Australian National Team and the Australian 18U National Team for the past five years. In 2015, he managed the 18U National team to a fourth-place finish at the World Cup, and in 2017 the 18U team finished fifth at the World Cup in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. 

Fish usually does not return to the United States until around June 1 but was able to create more time this year to be with his four children – two in Philadelphia, and two in Perth, exactly 12 time zones apart, on opposite sides of the world, in different hemispheres.

“I’ve got the best job in the world, but it is a long way from home, a long way from my family sometimes,” Fish said. “But the time I do get to spend with them is generally pretty good family time.”

A native of Portland, Oregon, Fish was a junior college transfer who pitched at Nebraska from 1995-97. The Anaheim Angels selected him in the 22nd round of the 1997 MLB Draft, and he spent 4½ years with the organization while earning its minor league pitcher of the year award in 1998.

Having never made the big leagues, Fish then spent 2001-02 with independent clubs in Quebec and New Jersey before deciding to retire. He came back to Lincoln to finish his bachelor’s degree in education and took a high school teaching job in Oregon.

While teaching, Fish received a call from a friend in Australia who invited him to come play there. He did, and he’s been in Perth since 2008, and a scout for the Red Sox since 2012.

In 2010, he created the Perth Heat Colts tour, in which Fish brings a group of Australia’s best 16- and 17-year-olds to the United States each summer to compete against American competition, in hopes they will play college baseball and continue their careers here. They also get a taste for the lifestyle of American baseball.

In his role as a scout for the Red Sox, he scours the Southern Hemisphere searching for untapped potential.

“We want guys who will get to the big leagues,” Fish said. “I literally signed my first amateur in six years in March. I’ve signed some free agents before, but it’s been tough. I have high expectations. I want kids to go to college as well. I think college is the best route for most of these kids.

In Australia, players can sign professional free-agent contracts at the age of 16.

“I’m essentially signing a sophomore or junior in high school, and they won’t come over to the U.S. until they’re 18, anyway,” Fish said. “The database the typical Australian player has isn’t even comparable to American kids, although they look the part, because they’re coached by pro guys. They just don’t have the game experience.”

 

Joba ‘Humbled’ By Bobblehead

Former Nebraska and Major League Baseball veteran pitcher Joba Chamberlain held a bobblehead of himself as he met with reporters late Friday afternoon at Haymarket Park, and looked it over.

“I don’t think I smiled that much when I was on the mound,” Chamberlain joked.

Outside the stadium, hundreds of fans lined up, waiting for the gates to open so they could own one of those free bobbleheads, reserved for the first 1,000 fans.

“It’s awkward,” Chamberlain said, laughing. “It’s awesome. When they announced it, I didn’t think I’d really done anything cool enough to deserve a bobblehead, so I’m humbled and honored by it.”

The event coincided with the beginning of Nebraska’s three-game series against Arizona State, the team the Huskers defeated in the 2005 College World Series for the program’s first CWS victory in five tries. Chamberlain was the winning pitcher in that 3-1 triumph, going seven innings.

“It’s kind of fitting, I guess,” Chamberlain said. “If all the stars aligned, I guess they aligned at the right time.”

As for his games at Haymarket Park, Chamberlain said his most memorable was a 3-1 victory against Miami in the first game of the 2005 Super Regionals, when he struck out 13.

“Just the magnitude of the game,” he said, “and obviously what Miami comes with in college baseball.”

Chamberlain, who pitched 11 years in the major leagues, most with the New York Yankees, now lives in Lincoln, where he said he spends most of his time chasing his teenaged son, who also plays baseball.

If fact, Chamberlain, in charge of Friday night’s ceremonial first pitch, threw some batting practice with his son on Thursday.

“So let’s hope I don’t embarrass myself on the first pitch,” he said.

 

Fish’s Funny Finish

Technically, Steve Fish retired in 2002, although he played in one more independent league game, in 2003, under rather odd circumstances. It allowed him, ironically, to throw his last professional pitch at Haymarket Park, which was still four years from opening when Fish finished his Nebraska career at Buck Beltzer Field.

Fish was driving across country, to Lincoln, to begin completion of his degree, when his former manager with the New Jersey Jackals, and then with the St. Paul Saints, found himself in a crisis. Several of his players had been in a car accident, and he needed immediate help for a game against the Lincoln Saltdogs.

“He calls me up and says, ‘Fish, are you back in Nebraska? I need a starter for tomorrow night,’ ” Fish said. “And I hadn’t picked up a ball in almost six months.”

Not only did Fish oblige to be the Saints' starting pitcher in a pinch, he had to hit, too. He performed admirably, throwing 6 innings while allowing nine hits and four runs, with a walk and a strikeout. He had two plate appearances, including a memorable one with runners at first and second and nobody out.

“He asked me to put the bunt down, and I put the bunt down,” Fish said, “and it was one of those balls that just came up off the bat and drops in front of the pitcher. Well, I didn’t run out of the box…”

He paused to laugh.

“And the pitcher threw to it third, second and first for a triple play.”

That is how his professional career ended.

But at least it came in front of an appreciative crowd.

“It was really cool. Everybody remembered who I was,” Fish said. “I hadn’t been in Lincoln – and this is 2003 – and they announced my name before the game and everybody stood up and clapped for me and welcomed me back. It was really, really humbling. It was an incredible experience.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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