John Nathans, the man who was cut out to be a big league catcher, is on the verge of becoming a lawyer instead.
And while Nathans remains heartbroken by the way his baseball career ended, he is thankful for the tight-knit community he found at Maine Law, and the promise of this new beginning. Nathans looks forward to the Law School commencement on May 19, and to his upcoming clerkship with the Maine Superior Court.
“I like criminal law and I like trial work in particular because it is very much like pro sports, it helps fulfill that competitive interest,” Nathans said. “You have to think on your feet and develop complex strategies in an adversarial environment. You get knocked down and you have to get back up.”
For most of his life, it was all about the pop of the baseball in the leather mitt. The New York native was signed by the Boston Red Sox as a free agent in 2001, and spent a few seasons with the Double-A minor league affiliate, the Portland Sea Dogs.
Then came Aug. 14, 2007, the day that forced Nathans to find a different dream.
Nathans was catching in an Atlantic League game in Connecticut when the batter, former Red Sox player Jose Offerman, charged the pitching mound, wielding his bat. Nathans raced to the mound to protect his pitcher, Matt Beech. Photos of the incident show Nathans diving toward Offerman and then tackling him, all while Offerman continued to swing the bat. One of those swings caught Nathans in the head. After the melee, Nathans was taken away on a stretcher, suffering from what doctors initially thought was a concussion.
For months after the attack, Nathans thought he would get better and get back to baseball. But his symptoms persisted. He was vomiting six or seven times a day. He would sit for hours in dark rooms, just to avoid any outside stimuli. He was dizzy all the time. Nathans slowly came to grips with the reality that his playing days were over.
“I always thought of myself as a big league catcher, I always felt I had that potential. All of a sudden that was taken away from me, and not on my terms,” he said. “It became clear that I needed to make a transition to another career.”
Nathans’ father is a lawyer. Also, his fiancée, Kate Lawrence of Gorham, is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law and was a law student extern for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland. Nathans applied for a job there, and in 2008 he was hired as a paralegal. The next fall he started as a student at Maine Law. He met some of his best friends early on, including fellow law student Matt Libby, who used to play minor league hockey for the Portland Pirates.
Nathans has worked as a law clerk and extern in the appellate division at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, as a student attorney at the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office, and he has been a leader of the Maine Law Moot Court Team. He plans on taking the bar exam in July.
“I’ve enjoyed being a prosecutor at the state level, and working on appeals at the federal level,” Nathans said. “After the clerkship with the Maine Superior Court, I may apply for other clerkship positions. The Department of Justice Honors Program is something I would like to do, or private practice.”