White Sox

Beloved Hickey a 'classic underdog'

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Beloved Hickey a 'classic underdog'

On a bright, sunny day in Chicago, a dark cloud hovers over the White Sox franchise, and for the second time in two weeks.

First came the passing of Moose Skowron. Now its Kevin Hickey.

While we mourn their losses here on Earth, life up in heaven just got a lot more interesting.

In a sport known for its unique characters, Hickey was as original as they come. How many people do you know became a major league pitcher without ever playing a single inning of high school baseball?

Now you know one. Kevin Hickey.

A talented 16-inch softball player, the Chicago native was invited to a summer tryout with the White Sox in 1978. That day, 250 amateurs arrived at the audition dreaming of playing in the big leagues. Hickey was the only one who received a contract.

Kevin Hickey was the ultimate long-shot, the classic underdog, said former White Sox general manager Roland Hemond, the man responsible for signing him. You couldnt help but root for him. Kevin did the absolute most with every single opportunity he received and earn every bit of success.

His dark horse life could have been made into a movie, so much so that he had recently been speaking with a screenwriter about telling his Rudy-esque story. The odds of it actually becoming a Hollywood film might have been a long-shot, but then again, long-shot could have been written on Hickeys birth certificate.

After pitching for the White Sox from 1981 to 1983, he would roam the minor leagues for five seasons, and in a two-year span was released by four teams: the Yankees, Phillies, White Sox and Giants. In 1989, at the age of 33, he finally made it back to the majors, pitching three seasons with the Orioles.

In 232 career innings, Hickey finished with a 9-14 record, a 3.91 ERA and only made 1 error.

How good was he?

Ask George Brett. He never got a hit off Hickey. He was 0-for-15.

Wade Boggs, a lifetime .328 hitter, went 1-for-11 with 5 strikeouts.

After retiring from the game, he would spend the next 10 years in Columbus, Ohio, working as a car salesman. But baseball was his life. It made him whole. In 2003, the White Sox hired him to be a batting practice pitcher, a job that fit him perfectly. Hickey walked around with a chip on his shoulder, and even in batting practice wasnt afraid to challenge the likes of Paul Konerko, Jim Thome and Frank Thomas.

He had better stuff than most left-handers in the league, said Thomas, the White Sox all-time home run leader. I used to tell him all the time, Youre wasting this is in batting practice. You should be pitching in the big leagues for real.

This was when Hickey was in his mid-40s.

He was full of energy. He never had a bad day, Thomas continued. He would bend over backwards to make sure youre comfortable at the plate that day. He was a tireless worker. Always was.

When the White Sox won the World Series in Houston in 2005, there was Hickey right in the middle of the celebration. He was the life of the party, and added life to the White Sox clubhouse.

Ask anyone in our clubhouse, every person appreciated what Kevin did to help the White Sox win baseball games, said Konerko. No one wanted to win more, no one was more optimistic, no one cared more and no one took more pride in his job. He made us all better.

Thats why there has been a pall over the team this season. Hickey hasnt been around for any of it. He was found unresponsive in his hotel room in Arlington, Texas the morning before Opening Day. The White Sox later flew him to Rush University Medical Center to be closer to home and with the hope that he would make a comeback.

Players would stop by the hospital during their off-time. Thome, who had a close relationship with Hickey, frequently checked in with one of Kevins brothers, looking for updates, hoping for signs of improvement.

Unfortunately, they never came.

Hickey passed away Tuesday morning. He was 56.

He is survived by his partner in life, Anna DAgata; five daughters, three grandchildren, his mother, two brothers and two sisters.

Theres also his White Sox family, many of whom will take the field Tuesday night feeling the loss of their good friend.

Im not sure what heaven looks like, but if theres a pitchers mound up there, Im guessing Kevin is standing on top of it, and throwing high and inside.

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

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USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

For the first time in two months, Avisail Garcia is back in the White Sox lineup.

Garcia’s return from his lengthy stay on the disabled list was a refreshing sight for a team that came into the season believing he’d be one of its biggest bats. After all, Garcia was excellent in 2017, an All-Star campaign for him that saw him with some of the best hitting statistics in the American League.

But even with those good numbers, there were plenty of questions about where Garcia stood in the rebuilding White Sox long-term future. After a long wait for that breakout season, was it going to be the new normal or a one-hit wonder? He’s got just two more seasons of team control left, and there are a ton of outfield prospects developing behind him in the minor leagues.

His admittedly slow start this year didn’t help clarify anything: He returned to action with a .233/.250/.315 slash line, a far cry from the .330/.380/.506 line he finished with last season.

So now he’s back, and the “prove it” season resumes. He’s got time left to show the White Sox he can fend off challenges from the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and all the rest. Getting back on the field is the first step in doing that.

“Be healthy and play hard like I’ve been playing all my career,” Garcia said Friday. “Just trying stay healthy, do my routine and do my best to help my team win.

“My knee is good. My hamstring is good. I have no pain in my body right now. I feel great, great and focused and trying to compete every single day.”

The injury — injuries, it turns out — certainly didn’t help. After the hamstring strain he suffered turned out to be a tad more significant than originally believed, he suffered a separate knee injury during his recovery that kept him on the shelf a while longer.

But Garcia showed that maybe his bat is ready to come back to life during his rehab at Triple-A Charlotte. He slashed an eye-popping .360/.429/.840 with three home runs, three doubles and nine RBIs in just seven games.

No one’s expecting that kind of production now that he’s back at the major league level. But plenty of fans and observers are expecting a lot who is still young enough to warrant consideration for a spot on the White Sox next contending team. He’s got the advantage of already playing at the big league level to show off for all the decision makers.

But there’s no doubt that it’s a stacked group behind him. Jimenez, the third-ranked prospect in baseball, was just promoted to Triple-A. A trio of high-performing outfielders — Basabe, Alex Call and Joel Booker — just got bumped up to Double-A. And perhaps the most exciting group of all — Robert, Rutherford, Adolfo and Luis Gonzalez — are all playing together at Class A Winston-Salem.

That’s an awful lot of young, inexpensive depth to contend with in the discussion for how the White Sox should align their outfield of the future. But Garcia can still stay in that discussion by doing one thing: hitting. His quest to turn his season around starts now.