White Sox

Sox Drawer: Pierzynski feels the loss of Hickey

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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.

White Sox fans dreaming of Patrick Corbin: His free-agent destination might already be booked

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USA TODAY

White Sox fans dreaming of Patrick Corbin: His free-agent destination might already be booked

For the biggest dreamers among the White Sox faithful, here's how this offseason might be playing out.

Rick Hahn said the team will make some additions to the pitching staff. So for those dreamers, it's a rush to the top of the list of free-agent starting pitchers, right? Why not hook one of the biggest fish in the pond?

The top of that list looks like this: Clayton Kershaw (should he choose to opt out of his deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and seek a new, more lucrative one), Dallas Keuchel and Patrick Corbin. Some might even have those last two names flipped, with Corbin, coming off an All-Star season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, second only to one of the best to ever throw a baseball.

The White Sox might not be capable of outbidding baseball's biggest spenders, and that's without even mentioning that they might simply not be looking to ink a hurler to a long-term contract. After all, that's what all those talented prospects are for, right? Assembling the rotation of the future? Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are all already part of the 2019 staff. Michael Kopech, when he's done recovering from Tommy John surgery, will join them in 2020. And Dylan Cease was just named MLB Pipeline's minor league pitcher of the year. With all that in mind, any offseason additions to the rotation for 2019 might simply be one-year fill-ins.

But fans often like to dream big, and a lot of them have Corbin on their wish list.

That's not surprising when you look at his numbers. He threw 200 innings last season and struck out 246 batters while finishing with a 3.15 ERA, those last two numbers the best of his six-year big league career. He's 29 years old and a long-term deal would figure to have him in the starting rotation as the White Sox plan to shift from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

Just one problem: There's plenty of belief out there that Corbin's destination this winter has already been booked.

This has been a talking point for a while now, as the Yankees tried to bring Corbin to the Bronx via trade last offseason. They're expected to try to do so again, this time via free agency, as they've got a ton of money to spend. Corbin was quoted in the Nightengale story from April saying: "It would definitely be great to play there. I grew up a Yankee fan."

Sorry to burst your bubbles, White Sox fans. But don't blame me. Blame the Yankees, which seems to be becoming a frequent refrain. If Didi Gregorius' elbow injury means Manny Machado ends up in the Bronx this winter, too, White Sox fans might drop the Cubs as Public Enemy No. 1.

The White Sox have enough hurdles to clear in any pursuit of one of the game's top free agents: They have to compete with baseball's traditional big spenders, and they have to try and beat win-now pitches with a pitch of planned — though not yet arrived — long-term success. It's not like that hasn't been a winning battle before, though, as the rebuilding Cubs got Jon Lester to believe in their future and brought him in to help make their transition from rebuild to championship contention.

But throw in the hurdle of a history between a player and another team, and it makes it an even harder job.

The White Sox will be making some additions this offseason, though they might not be the ones fans are dreaming about. But not landing the winter's biggest fish doesn't mean the organization's biggest, most important dream of building a perennial contender on the South Side is going anywhere.

Top White Sox MiLB moments of 2018: Omar Vizquel's award-winning managerial debut

Top White Sox MiLB moments of 2018: Omar Vizquel's award-winning managerial debut

With the White Sox season over, we're looking back on the top 10 moments of the club's minor league season. We'll unveil one per day for 10 days, showcasing each moment in chronological order.

The moment: Omar Vizquel is named the Carolina League Manager of the Year, Sept. 13.

Vizquel became the third Winston-Salem Dash manager to be named Manager of the Year. The Dash went 84-54, the second-highest win total in franchise history and won the division title in both the first and second half.

Vizquel's season: As soon as Vizquel retired after the 2012 season, he went straight into coaching. First, he was an infield coach for the Angels in 2013. Then, he became the first base coach for the Tigers.

Vizquel remained there until taking the Dash job in the White Sox organization this season. Winston-Salem was an important post because seven of the top 10 and 16 of the top 30 prospects from MLB Pipeline's rankings spent some time there in 2018.

Vizquel was able to guide that talent to a whole bunch of winning. The Dash had the best record in the Carolina League in the regular season.

The playoffs did not go so well. The Dash got swept by the eventual league champion Buies Creek Astros in the first round.

Still, it was a successful managerial debut for Vizquel and the White Sox got to take advantage of his experience with a number of top prospects playing under him.

He may not manage the White Sox any time soon, but Vizquel's ties to the organization (two years playing with the team and now coaching in the organization) make him a possible candidate at some point in his managerial career.