The labels are beginning to pile up for Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon. For starters, there's his de facto first name, short for Trotman, the antebellum-sounding middle name he was given in honor of his grandfather. Although his first name is Christopher, he has been called Trot since his childhood in Wilmington, N.C. Then there's the nameplate above his locker in the Sox' Fenway Park clubhouse, which reads VOLCANO instead of NIXON. A mischievous teammate made the change because the hyperintense Nixon, as Boston first baseman Brian Daubach says, "can erupt at any time."
Nixon got yet another tag last month, when Blue Jays reliever Paul Quantrill referred to him and some of his unheralded teammates as "dirt dogs." Says Nixon, "It's a compliment. It means we're not afraid to get dirty, to do whatever it takes to win." Dirt Dog is fitting, but the label Nixon likes most is regular, one he has earned this season with the best play of his four-year career.
Through Sunday, Nixon, 27, was hitting .283. He was second on the Red Sox in RBIs, with 57, behind slugger Manny Ramirez, and tied for second (with Daubach) in home runs (18, a career high), also behind Ramirez. After starting the season in rightfield, Nixon shifted to center when Carl Everett went down with a sprained right knee on June 21. During Everett's absence, Nixon batted .316, had seven homers, drove in 23 runs in 31 games and played his usual stellar defense. (He went back to right when Everett returned to action on July 28.) Only Ramirez has been in Boston's revolving-door lineup more often than Nixon, whose at bats have been evenly spread among the top three spots in the order.
In the clubhouse Nixon, a lefthanded hitter who sends the ball to all fields, gets a lot of credit for keeping injury-ravaged Boston in the fight for a postseason berth. Not bad for someone whose ability to play every day was questioned publicly by Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette during spring training. Now, with a rare flash of humor, Duquette says, " Nixon's the one. He's developed into one of the better every-day players in the big leagues."
Boston has been waiting for Nixon to break through since making him its first-round draft pick in 1993, the year Baseball America named him the best high school player in the country (ahead of Alex Rodriguez). Nixon made the majors for good in '99 and spent the past two seasons as a role player, gaining recognition for a hard-nosed style that sends him crashing into outfield fences, careering around the base paths and raging at himself when he makes an out. He also emerged as one of the Red Sox' best clutch performers and a fan favorite—Boston rooters relish the memory of his game-winning, ninth-inning homer off Roger Clemens at Yankee Stadium in May 2000.
His teammates became equally awed and amused by his linebacker's demeanor. "You look at him now, and he's a completely different person than he will be at 7:05," closer Derek Lowe said three hours before a recent game. "No human can have his intensity all day long."
"He can snap with the best of them," adds Daubach, as he rummages through his locker in search of one of the DIRT DOG T-shirts a friend of Nixon's made up, "but everything he does is to help the team win."