JUPITER -- When former major league reliever Joe Nelson suddenly began receiving phone calls from sportswriters the other day, he knew what they would concern. Actor Leonard Nimoy had just died, and Nelson, in a baseball way, was a natural tie-in.
It was Nelson who created -- and threw -- the "Vulcan change up" during his sporadic career in the majors, one in which he played for five different clubs, including the Marlins, in parts of six seasons spread out over 10 years.
Nimoy, of course, was best known for playing Mr. Spock in the Star Trek sci-fi series, the Vulcan first officer aboard the Starship Enterprise.
"When the calls started coming, I said it must be Spock," said Nelson, who now scouts for the Seattle Mariners and was hanging out Sunday taking notes on players at the Marlins' spring training complex. "I had the media relations guy with the Mariners call me saying, 'We've got these odd requests from writers. They want your phone number. I don't know why.' But I knew."
Nelson developed his strange but batter-baffling pitch while playing in junior college after his coach suggested he come up with something different to include in his arsenal. Nelson discovered he could comfortably grip a baseball between his middle and third fingers, a split-finger with a twist.
But what to name his peculiar grip? He wanted it to be something clever.
"Nanu Nanu was nerdy and Spock was cool," Nelson said. "I didn't want to be Mork from Ork."
Since the odd grip reminded him of Spock's hand-raised gesture, the Vulcan change up was born. Nelson, who didn't have much of a fastball, used it often during his big-league career, one in which he appeared in 157 games and went 7-2 with a 4.38 ERA for the Braves, Royals, Rays, Red Sox and Marlins.
Nelson said he watched Star Trek as a kid and even dressed up as Mr. Spock one Halloween.
"When I was 13, we didn’t have much money, so my mom Scotch-taped my ears back to make me look like him," he said.
Now that Nimoy is gone, Nelson figures his days of giving interviews to talk about the pitch are probably over.
"Spock's death will probably be the last interviews I give," Nelson said. "I was sad to see Leonard go."