Three years after Tommy John surgery, while pitching for MSU, Nick was named the 2012 Louisville Slugger National Player of the Year — the best collegiate baseball player in the country. It’s testament to his attitude and what baseball has taught him about life.
“Tommy John rehab is very challenging. It’s long and wears on the mind and the body. And then you have to teach yourself how to throw again.”
Never the biggest player on the team or the hardest thrower, Nick’s competitive advantage came from an underdog mentality and mental toughness. He used to cheer for the Red Sox and the Rays in hopes that they’d beat the Yankees.
“I don’t want to just join the best team, I want to beat the best team. I love the psychology and idea of less talent and harder work beating more talent.”
Drafted by the Cardinals, I saw Nick pitch for the AA Springfield team a couple times in 2015. At the end of that season, a second tear was discovered in his arm. Instead of undergoing a second surgery, Nick retired.
“Baseball is a hard game. It’s just like life. Not everything goes your way. But you learn how to deal with adversity in such a way to take positives from it. In life, if you can learn to look for the positives when negative things happen, when it seems that nothing is going your way, you’ll avoid that emotional roller coaster.”
Nick is now back at MSU working on his master’s degree in Sports Management. He’s also working with the team as a graduate assistant manager and taught me a little about the various tools the team uses to gather data. He still throws almost every day and throws bullpen sessions weekly.
“No matter what team I was on, I’ve always helped my teammates. Whether it was just talking baseball and thinking through the game or working with someone on their change-up, I wanted to help them be better. I want to coach and am grateful for the opportunity here.”
In the indoor facility next to the field where Nick played collegiately and professionally, we threw and I was coached on a variety of pitches. Knuckleball — I think Nick could make a comeback strictly as a knuckleball pitcher. Change-up and pressure points. Odd pitches just to see what they’d do. Nick even threw a couple curves. I threw flat sliders in return.
Only 24 catch-playing days remain in 2018. I am amazed at all the people I’ve met this year and will be doing my best to live slowly, savoring the last three weeks of sliders and stories.