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.

Preview: Carlos Rodon makes season debut as White Sox face Yankees on CSN

Preview: Carlos Rodon makes season debut as White Sox face Yankees on CSN

Carlos Rodon makes his season debut as the White Sox take on the New York Yankees tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN Plus and live streaming on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Tonight’s starting pitching matchup: Carlos Rodon (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (5-7, 5.74 ERA)

Click here for more stats to make sure you’re ready for the action.

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch

— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

Confident Jose Quintana gets 'back to who he's always been'

Confident Jose Quintana gets 'back to who he's always been'

The White Sox said all along they were confident Jose Quintana would rebound and now that he has no seems the least bit surprised.

Quintana provided yet another round of proof that he’s far removed from those May woes when he silenced the New York Yankees on Tuesday night. While the left-hander earned a no decision, he was rewarded when the White Sox rallied for a 4-3 victory over the Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field. Quintana finished June with a 1.78 ERA.

“We have a very good relationship, very good communication,” teammate Jose Abreu said through an interpreter. “When (Quintana) was passing through that, the first two months, I let him know, just keep your confidence, don’t hesitate, do your job, keep working hard because we have confidence in you. Now he’s just showing us what he’s capable of doing and doing what he’s been doing his whole career. We’re glad he’s the same Jose Quintana he’s been the last couple of years.”

Quintana has gone from a period where many of his mistakes got hit to a spot where he’s been borderline untouchable. He limited the second-best offense in the American League to two hits and four walks in 6 1/3 scoreless innings on Tuesday. With good fastball command and a sharp curve, Quintana had New York hitters out of whack.

This is a much different pitcher than the one who was tagged by the Boston Red Sox on May 30, an outing after which he said he was embarrassed. Since losing to Boston, Quintana has lowered his ERA from 5.30 to 4.37. In that span, Quintana has allowed 21 hits and six earned runs with 12 walks and 30 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings.

“Sometime bad games are going to happen,” Quintana said. “But when it happens, I go check the video to see if I’m doing something wrong and try to make adjustments. But I feel pretty good and I have my confidence high and for me I turn the page and focus on the next one.”

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The 2016 All-Star thrived in the few instances when he got into trouble on Tuesday.

He struck out Tyler Austin with two men in scoring position to end the fourth inning and erased a leadoff walk in the fifth with an Austin Romine double play. After Quintana surrendered a two-out double to Judge in the sixth inning, he got Sanchez to pop out to strand the tying run.

Quintana only threw strikes on 55 of 101 pitches on Tuesday. But, of those 55, 10 were swings and misses.

“It's just been him commanding the zone, attacking,” manager Rick Renteria said. “A lot more strikes. He still had some at-bats today where he got to 3-2, but then he'd execute, he'd finish and make a pitch that induced a very weak fly ball or groundballs. That's who he is, I mean you all have seen him like this before. For us it's just seeing him get back to who he's always been.”