Kansas City, Mo. — Growing up in Goochland, Virginia, John Hicks hung around the baseball field, watching just about every game his brother Daniel and his best friend, a stud pitcher named Justin Verlander, played.
Hicks and his brother celebrated the night Verlander was drafted and they’ve remained close all through Verlander’s brilliant career.
Imagine the thrill Daniel Hicks must have felt when he got a text message from Verlander Monday night — something to the effect of “Hey, your little brother is catching me tomorrow.”
“My brother is probably more excited about it than Justin or I am,” Hicks said.
It will certainly be a big night for the folks in Goochland — two of their native sons comprising the starting battery for the Tigers.
“It’ll be a first, that’s for sure,” said Hicks, who had never caught Verlander in a game before Tuesday. “When he got drafted, I told my brother in the offseason, ‘See if Justin wants to throw a bullpen. I’d love to catch him.’ And that’s when I was still in high school, about to go to college.
“It’s something I’ve thought about. Getting drafted by Seattle and coming up, I always thought it would be cool to face him.
But getting to be on the same team and catching him, it’s going to be an awesome experience.”
Well, yes and no. As James McCann and Alex Avila will attest, catching Verlander comes with some challenges. He is very routine oriented, so be where he needs you on time. Also, he has a firm idea of what pitch he wants to throw, so be prepared to have your sign shaken off.
“I’m excited,” Hicks said. “He’s going to shake. He’s going to throw what he wants to throw. By all means — do it. He’s had a ton of success in this league. He’s got a plan and he sticks to it.
“I think that’s a great thing for a pitcher to have and I expect to get called out (to the mound) a few times — we’ll just go from there.”
Before Verlander even got to the park Tuesday, Hicks had studied all the Royals’ hitters. He’d gone over video of Verlander pitching to each hitter. He studied Verlander’s last start.
“I have an approach as far as what I think will work. And he will have his,” Hicks said. “We will talk before and create a plan of attack. And once we’re out there, I’ll put down what I think and he will say yes or no.”
Still, it’s a long way from the days of sitting in bleachers at the old Goochland baseball field watching his brother and Verlander try to win a state title, which they fell short of doing. Hicks, however, helped Goochland win the state title in his sophomore season.
“I’ve watched Justin a ton,” Hicks said. “I mean, he and my brother were on the same high school team, they were on travel teams together — they were together all the time. I’ve seen Justin pitch since from the tenth grade on.”
And now he’s catching him in the big leagues. Pretty cool.