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?