The Orioles lost a popular member of their family early yesterday morning when Jeff Nelson, the club's video coaching assistant since 1995, died of complications following surgery at Johns Hopkins. He was 25.
Nelson helped prepare tapes the Orioles used to review their performances or to prepare for an upcoming pitcher. One of the more common sights at Camden Yards was a player huddled with Nelson in the video room outside the clubhouse checking his at-bats from the previous night's game.
"Jeff was the man. He had everything you needed," said catcher Lenny Webster. "If you wanted to watch your hitting tapes from three months ago, Jeff could pull it up for you. Whatever you wanted, he had access to it. I mean, everybody called on Jeff and he never said he didn't have time. He did his job very well. And he was one of us. He traveled with us and he was like part of the family.
"When I heard this, I had a lump in my throat and my heart fell in my stomach. It was just very shocking to me. He was such good kid, so fun-loving. It's just hard to swallow right now."
Club spokesman John Maroon said he received a phone call from bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks around 6 a.m. informing him of Nelson's death.
"He was very much loved in the clubhouse," Maroon said. "I called [former Orioles reliever] Alan Mills. It really shook him up. And Lenny Webster and Eric Davis and Cal [Ripken], you can go down the line. Everybody was quite devastated."
Nelson was born with sickle cell anemia, an inherited reduction in the number of red blood corpuscles that is found chiefly in African-Americans. The disease is characterized by an abnormal red blood cell containing a defective form of hemoglobin that causes it to become sickle-shaped when deprived of oxygen.
Last month, Nelson had a pin inserted in his leg to lengthen it and help alleviate a pronounced limp. The procedure had to be repeated last week, and a club official said complications apparently arose after a blood transfusion.
A representative at Johns Hopkins was prohibited by state law from providing details of Nelson's death pending approval from family members.
"He was really looking forward to this winter and to having this surgery and fixing his leg," Webster said. "I mean, I just got a Christmas card from him. I was up listening to some Christmas music this morning when I got the call and I about fell to my knees. We just want to know what happened because this is truly tragic."
Nelson is survived by his wife, Karen, and 18-month-old son, Jeff Jr. The funeral will take place Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Loring Byers Funeral Home in Randallstown.
Pub Date: 12/19/98