Updated: May 28, 2021
By Paul Slater
Photo Credit: Chicago Cubs
Former Wilson High School baseball standout Tommy Nance is living his dream. On May 17th he made his Major League Baseball debut pitching for the Chicago Cubs at historic Wrigley Field.
“Growing up we all wanted to be a big leaguer,” Nance said. “We’re all playing wiffle ball, dreaming that it’s the bottom of the 9th in the World Series. But finally being on that field was an unbelievable experience.”
Leading 7-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals, Nance got the call in the bullpen. He opened the bullpen door in the outfield and walked through the famous Wrigley Field ivy before stepping under the bright lights with the Cubs fans going crazy behind him.
“I was a little nervous and my heart was racing, but you only make your debut once so I wanted to make sure I was feeling every emotion,” Nance said. “As soon as I hit the dirt and put my foot on the rubber, I told myself ‘you belong here’.”
Nance shut the door, sealing the Cubs victory with a 1-2-3 inning, including a strikeout against the very first batter he faced.
“It’s still surreal and I still can’t put it into words,” he said. “It’s nice to see all the hard work pay off because it’s been a wild ride for me.”
It’s been a long journey, riddled with injuries, for Nance who recently turned 30 in March. As a senior at Wilson in 2009, he was dealing with a back injury and missed most of his senior year. He walked on at Long Beach State as a freshman before transferring to Cypress Junior College. From there, he was recruited to pitch at Santa Clara University, but didn’t get drafted after his junior or senior years. He tore his Tommy John ligament in his elbow in 2013, but after his rehab, Nance finished his degree in Mechanical Engineering and signed to play in the Frontier League with the Windy City ThunderBolts.
Photo Credit: Chicago Cubs
“It’s never come easy for me and I’ve had to put the work in to do well,” Nance said. “I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder and have felt like I’ve had to prove myself to everybody.”
Nance signed with the Cubs in 2016, but continued to struggle with injuries. He had a nerve injury in his shoulder costing him the entire 2017 season. And then again in 2018 and 2019 when he had a torn groin and hernia surgery. But this didn’t stop Nance from grinding.
“I couldn’t see myself doing anything else and I’ve always had that internal drive,” he said. “I have this ability and these gifts and I had to make the most of it.”
Nance worked hard in the weight room while recovering from injury. He focused on strengthening his lower half and when he healed up, he fine-tuned his pitching mechanics. He worked on being efficient with his body movement in his delivery and his velocity became effortless. He went from throwing 93-94 MPH off the mound to consistently hitting 98 MPH with a wipeout slider. His slider’s spin rate is among the best in Major League Baseball according to MLB.com.
Nance says it would have been easy for him to give up on his dream after all the adversity he faced, but seeing all the support from Long Beach makes it all the more special that it’s come full circle.
“I’ve tried to get back to everyone who has reached out to say thank you,” Nance said. “The support has been absolutely huge.”
Nance made it. He’s a Major League Baseball player and a Long Beach hero. And that can never be taken away from him.
For our full podcast interview with Tommy, take a listen at https://soundcloud.com/user-512303503-223496224/chicago-cubs-pitcher-tommy-nance