JOEL BADZINSKI | email@example.com
ONALASKA — Jason Nell knew he would represent a new era for the La Crosse Loggers when he was hired as the team’s fifth manager in October.
Nell was comfortable with that.
The 2012 season marked the end of La Crosse’s first decade in the Northwoods League. The Loggers capped the summer with their first championship, then said goodbye to manager Andy McKay, who stepped down after five winning seasons.
Enter Nell, 38, who managed the Mankato MoonDogs from 2006-08, the Waterloo Bucks from 2010-11 and is the coach at Iowa Lakes Community College. He was the NWL Manager of the Year in 2008 and ranks eighth on the league’s career wins list (173-169).
Nell said when he was hired that he “can’t be Andy,” and repeated that at the Loggers Winter Baseball BBQ at the Stoney Creek Inn.
“They hired me for me and what I am and what I’m about,” Nell said.
Nell talked about replacing McKay, his outside-looking-in viewpoint of the Loggers while managing other teams and several other topics at the annual event.
Q: What are your impressions of the Loggers organization?
A: “First class. First class all the way. It was fun playing
La Crosse not only because they always have good teams but because it’s a great organization. (General manager) Chris (Goodell) would do anything you need and the fans … the difference between Madison and the 6,000 people they get is that with everything else going on it’s the fifth inning before they realize there’s a game. In La Crosse the fans are smart, knowledgeable and passionate. It’s a great atmosphere. So why wouldn’t you want to be here?”
Q: What are your thoughts on following up the Loggers’ 2012 season?
A: “Again, they hired me for me and what I am and what I’m about. What they did last year, that’s awesome. One of the first things I told Chris was, ‘Great job.’ I understand there are big shoes to fill. But I’d much rather walk into that situation with the bar set at that level than go somewhere where the bar is at ground level, and there are a lot of red flags. I can’t be Andy, I can only concentrate on being me. I’ve been in this league for six years so I must have done something right. I’d love to win a championship but next season is going to be different coaches, different kids, everything’s different.”
Q: What is your style as a manager and leader?
A: “My big thing is respect. You respect the game. If you don’t have that, we’re not going to mesh. I’m a baseball guy, I’m passionate. And if they leave here as better players and better human beings, I’ve done my job. I talk about respect, responsibility and discipline. Somebody’s watching you play for the first time. People pay to watch us play, and sometimes I still can’t believe that, but make sure to give them what they pay for.”
Q: How did your previous five seasons in the Northwoods League prepare you for managing the Loggers?
A: “Whether I was at Mankato or Waterloo or Iowa Lakes, I try to get better as a coach. All I can do is build upon what I’ve done. My wife said the other day, ‘You’ve done OK for yourself, too.’ I’ve been in this league for six years, and that says something.”