Andrew Nannini has been part of the annual Nannini Game between the Merced and Golden Valley High baseball teams since he was a little kid. Each year, Andrew and his brother Brevin were asked to throw out the first pitch.
Friday night marked a new chapter: the first time Andrew, 17, was able to play in the game as a player for Merced High.
The game was started as a way to honor Kevin and Brian Nannini, twins who died when their fishing boat capsized in San Luis Reservoir in 2004. Both Kevin and Brian Nannini were baseball stars during their time at Merced High and Merced College.
Shortly after the tragedy, Dave Nannini founded the Kevin and Brian Nannini Scholarship Fund in honor of his sons. Since 2004, they’ve handed out over $60,0000 in scholarships to senior baseball players from Merced and Golden Valley. On Friday, they included El Capitan players as they handed out 20 more scholarships. Each scholarship was worth $300.
Andrew, who is Brian’s oldest son, started in left field and hit cleanup for the Bears. His 9-year-old cousin Ty Nannini and 4-year-old step-sister Kylie-Rae Turner took over his old job of throwing out the first pitch.
“When I was younger, high school baseball seemed so far away,” Andrew said. “Now I’m playing. I thought so highly of the high school guys when I was younger. I was always here at this game. My grandfather would drag me out there to throw the first pitch. I was nervous then, being in front of a big crowd.”
It was an emotional night for the Nannini family. While addressing the crowd during a pregame ceremony, Dave Nannini broke down when he explained he sought out some extra help this year so he could focus on watching his grandson play.
“I’ve thought about it for a long time,” Dave Nannini said. “I’m so proud of him. I’ve had other coaches come up to me and say he looks like his dad, he plays like his dad.”
You can imagine the emotions swirling around for Andrew. He summed them up with one word.
“Pressure,” he said. “I had a lot of anxiety. Once the game got started, it was just another baseball game. I just tried to do anything I can to help my team win.”
Golden Valley won 2-1 in dramatic fashion, executing a suicide squeeze play in the top of the seventh inning to score the winning run.
Andrew went 0 for 3., although he appeared to get robbed of an infield single in the bottom of the sixth inning when he was called out after he appeared to beat the throw to first base.
Merced coach Tynan Pedretti calls Andrew one of the Bears’ most consistent hitters this season. He’s tied for the team lead in RBIs with 10, he’s second on the team with 11 runs scored and second in stolen bases with six.
Brian and Kevin Nannini played for Pedretti’s father, Chris Pedretti, at Merced College.
“Everything I’ve heard from anyone in the stands, or anyone around town is how they were great people,” Tynan Pedretti said. “Andrew embodies a lot of that. He’s one of those guys that makes you enjoy coaching.”
Being the son of the longtime Merced College coach, Tynan Pedretti knows the pressure that can come with a last name. His advice for Andrew on Friday night was “to enjoy the moment.”
Andrew was 2 years old when his father died.
“I’ve heard nothing but great stories,” Andrew said. “My grandpa talks about them all the time. He tells me about them in high school and college. I don’t know that I’ll play up to their level, but my grandpa is so proud. I think for him, everything has come full circle. He used to drag me out there when I was 4 years old to throw out the first pitch. I wish I could have done better for him tonight.”
The retired numbers of Brian (12) and Kevin (7) hang on the right-field fence at Merced High. Coincidentally, the last two Merced players to wear those numbers were also brothers. Poetically, both Kevin (12) and Kory (7) Vitato hit home runs on the night of the first Nannini Game in 2004.
Andrew sees the retired numbers of his father and uncle every time he takes the home field.
“I look at it every day. You know I had the opportunity to wear my dad’s No. 12, but I chose No. 19 because I wanted to honor both my dad and my uncle. I wear 19 to honor them, seven plus 12. I’m honored to play under their names.
“I pray to them before and after every game to watch after us. It means a lot to me.”