First-base coaches are only slightly more revered than bullpen coaches or pregame anthem accordionists, but they’ve been part of the game since the 19th century. According to baseball historian David Nemec, “first-base coaches were conceived in the mid-1880’s, mostly for the purpose of stealing signs, heckling umpires and taunting opposing players, especially pitchers.” The most famous first-base coach of the era was Arlie Latham, described in the book as ”a torrential heckler and an ace sign stealer.”
None of which describes—we don’t think—Alyssa Nakken, the San Francisco Giants assistant coach who worked the line Tuesday night in a game against the San Diego Padres. She is the first full-time female coach in MLB history and now the first one to work one of the baselines, but it took a hilariously newfangled ejection to give her her big shot. And almost her first bench-emptying brawl.
It seems that Antoan Richardson, the regular first-base coach, got into a snipefest with Padres coach Mike Shildt, the former Cardinals manager, because Shildt barked at Giant outfielder Steven Duggar for stealing second base with a 10-1 lead in the second inning. Ooooh! Etiquette violated! Unwritten rules in tatters! What could be more traditional baseball?
Only San Francisco manager Gabe Kapler, ever the moonlit imp, blew tradition out the storm windows by sending Nakken out to take Richardson’s place in the bottom of the third, and after some congratulations from crowd and Padres like Eric Hosmer alike, she became an ancillary figure in a second etiquette breach that should have created a line brawl that might have induced her to throw down like one of the fellas.
Mauricio Dubon dropped down a bunt to start the bottom of the sixth, which further enraged the already offended Padres. Several of them, in fact, barked angrily at Dubon as he stood next to Nakken at first base, and spent the next few minutes pretending to look threatening in their brown-and-gold uniforms. To be fair, the Giants were also wearing their fading orange slushy uniforms Tuesday, so if you squinted hard enough the entire game looked a bit like a festival of baby spew. Had the two dugouts emptied, Oracle Park would have looked like a used diaper turned inside-out.
Either way, the possibility that she’d have to punch out a Padre but never got the chance made the night a bit of a letdown. She could have been the first woman to be ejected for punching an opponent in a big-league game, and if you don’t think that could bring more women to the ballpark, then you don’t know entertainment, or women In short, this was simultaneously a great moment and a completely blown opportunity for baseball, upwardly mobile women, and punchworthy men all at once. Fortunately it’s only Day 6, and based on this Kapler quote…
…this won’t be the last time the Giants cross swords and shields with other teams. Alyssa Nakken will someday realize her truest goal in the sport—to sprint across a field in faux rage, grab a random opponent at the shoulders, and pretend to want to fight. Then, and only then, will we be able to celebrate this moment in baseball history in the properly contradictory and hilarious way.