Bulls

Sox Drawer: Pierzynski feels the loss of Hickey

805186.png

Sox Drawer: Pierzynski feels the loss of Hickey

When Dayan Viciedo hit that dramatic home run Thursday night in New York, he was there.

When Philip Humber threw the perfect game in Seattle, he was there too.

All season long, Kevin Hickey has been there; in the hearts and minds of the Chicago White Sox.

I know every time I look at his jersey, hes there, said A.J. Pierzynski about Hickeys number-99 jersey which hangs in the White Sox dugout, both home and away. He always pops in your head at weird times, just because for seven years, he was there.

Hickey made a career out of being there for the White Sox, first as a fan, then as a pitcher, followed by those seven years as the teams batting practice coach. But to the players and coaches, he was much more than that.

Especially to Pierzynski.

He might be known as a hard-nosed catcher, but A.J. will always have a soft spot for the guy they called Hick man, who passed away on May 16 at the age of 56.

Its hard to describe because until youre here every day, in the clubhouse everydayon the planes with us, on the buses with us, on the road with us, in the hotels with us, you dont understand how close you become with people, said Pierzynski. The people who have been here and have been through wars with and been through battles with, and youve done everything you can with them, you understand that this is a guy that would do anything for me, and Kevin Hickey was that guy, he literally would do anything for me.

While the White Sox were in Texas preparing for their final workout before Opening Day, word reached the clubhouse that Hickey was found to be unresponsive in his hotel room. The players didnt know the severity of the situation, but they did know Hickey, which meant theyd be seeing him again soon.

Hes gonna come out of it, hes in great shape and you just really thought he wasone day were gonna get the phone call and hes awake, Pierzynski said.

That day never came.

I would go and visit him in the hospital and see him and see his family. You start getting a medical diagnosis and prognosis of whats supposed to happen, it just never seemed like there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and I feel so sorry for his daughters, his brothers and sisters and his mom. And then when we get the phone call that he was gone. That was kind of the finality of it all. Then it was like, Okay, this is over with now. Im not gonna see Kevin at the field, hes not gonna be there to flip to me, hes not gonna be there to throw to me, hes not gonna be there to cheer me on everyday, because he was the biggest cheerleader we had.

Hickeys funeral was held on May 22. The family asked Pierzynski to speak on behalf of the players, two days after the White Sox had won three straight from the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

No one was more proud of our team that we swept the Cubs, a teary-eyed Pierzynski said of Hickey to the crowd. His jersey was there hanging, watching us....Ill miss Kevin forever.

A.J. is someone who excels in front of huge crowds on the games biggest stage. But to stand before family and teammates, all with heavy hearts, to speak about their lost friend was something he was not prepared for.

To get up there and talk was really one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life, said Pierzynski, who choked up several times during his speech. I have no problem speaking in front of people that you dont know. It could be a million people and Ive got no problem getting up there and talking, but when you get up there and you look down and see his family there, and you see the casket there, its just a different thing and it was one of the hardest things Ive ever had to do. Im honored that they asked me to do it, but I loved Hick and I love his family and I know hes in a better place now.

Wherever that place is, it does seem like a part of Hickey is still here. If its not his jersey hanging in the dugout, its his spirit that appears to be following Pierzynski around the field. With 12 home runs and 42 RBIs, A.J. is easily on pace for the best season of his career.

Kevin Hickeys one of the greatest people and I wish he was here every day, Pierzynski said. But hes gone. We have to find a way to keep his memory alive.

It turns out, they are.

By winning, by playing the game hard, and for each other.

Hickey was known as the ultimate underdog. Before the season, so were the White Sox.

But here we are on June 29 and look who's in first place.

You know who wouldn't be happier?

Kevin Hickey.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

11-24_gsw_matchup_nba_chi_blank.jpg

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

Is there any better way to break in your new Black Friday television than Bulls-Warriors tonight? We think not. Coverage starts at 9 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, and the game is also available to stream via the NBC Sports app

Here are three things to keep your eye on: 

1. Not the score. Let's be honest: the Bulls probably won't sneak out a win at the Oracle. In fact, ESPN's matchup predictor only gives Fred Hoiberg's young squad a 2.9 percent chance to come up victorious. UIC has three times better odds against juggernaut Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Sunday, in case you needed some context.  

With the talent gap in mind, though, it will be important for the Bulls to come out with high energy. The Warriors will likely take the contest lightly in the first half, so starting off strong reflects well on the coaching staff and starters. Stay within 10 points by the half, and that's considered a massive triumph. 

2. Lauri Markkanen vs. Draymond Green? Assuming the Dubs start out with Green on Markkanen, this will be rookie's biggest test of the season. Green is an elite defender, capable of wrecking gameplans from the tip. He's physical, quick and athletic. 

Markkanen is coming off two duds on the West Coast trip, but his aggressiveness hasn't wavered. It'll be important for him to continue to attack even with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year hounding him. 

3. Steph, KD and Klay doin' work. The Bulls offense hasn't exactly been a thing of beauty through the first 16 games. Their offensive rating is a brutal 94.4, ranked last in the NBA. Golden State, on the other hand, sits at the top with a rating of 113.1. 

Take some time to admire the skills of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson because when it comes to working cohesively on offense, they've set the gold standard. 

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

chicago-thankful.jpg
USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.