Back to Omaha: Tigers' Hicks, Greiner return to scene of triumph and heartbreak

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
The Tigers' John Hicks played in the College World Series twice during his time at the University of Virginia.

Kansas City, Mo. — John Hicks is the answer to a great College World Series trivia question, but that’s not the first thing he remembers about his two trips to Omaha, Neb., during his three years at the University of Virginia.

“We never got to dogpile there,” Hicks said. “I remember that.”

Hicks is one of a handful of current Tigers who will be reminiscing about their College World Series days on Thursday, as the Tigers and Royals play in the first Major League game ever TD Ameritrade Park.

“It’ll be exciting,” said Hicks, who — trivia answer — is the only player to hit a home run at both the old park (Rosenblatt Stadium) and the new one (TD Ameritrade).

“That’s definitely a cool thing I can say, I guess forever since the old park is gone. That’s a nice thing to have in my back pocket. But it doesn’t get brought up unless it’s something like this, going back there.”

Hicks played at Rosenblatt as a freshman in 2009, the year the Cavaliers were eliminated in a 12-inning heartbreaker by former Tigers catcher James McCann’s Arkansas team.

“We were up 3-1 in the top of the ninth,” Hicks said. “There were two outs and a streaker came running across the field. They ended up tackling the guy, but as he’s walking past the Arkansas dugout, the guy yells, ‘That was for you. We flipped the momentum. You are going to win now.’”

Sure enough, the Razorbacks tied the game in the ninth and won it in the 12th.

“Twice we had the bases loaded in extra innings with less than two outs but didn’t score,” Hicks said. “That was a tough one to swallow.”

Tigers catcher Grayson Greiner played for South Carolina in the College World Series.

Hicks went 3-for-6 in the game and hit a home run off former Tigers lefty Drew Smyly. McCann had three hits for the Razorbacks.

Hicks and the Cavaliers were back in 2011, at TD Ameritrade, and finished third, losing to eventual champion South Carolina — a team that featured a backup freshman catcher named Grayson Greiner.

Hicks hit a home run in an earlier loss to the Gamecocks.

“I remember the ball really flew at Rosenblatt,” Hicks said. “At TD Ameritrade, you really had to hit it to get it out. On the home run I hit there, the left fielder went back and tried to steal it. There was a fan right there and the ball hit off his glove and went back on the field.

“I stopped at second base while they had a conversation about it, and then I got to finish my trot.”

Greiner was the starting catcher in 2012 when South Carolina lost the championship game to Brandon Dixon’s Arizona team. Dixon hit an RBI double in that game.

“We’ve talked about it a lot more lately than we would’ve normally,” Greiner said. “As a freshman we won the title and I got to play on that team. The next year we were going for the three-peat and just came up short.

“I made the last out in that game, and I had to walk past their dogpile. That was tough, but I have a lot of great memories from the College World Series.”

Matthew Boyd (Oregon State), Gordon Beckham (Georgia), Nick Ramirez (Cal State Fullerton) and manager Ron Gardenhire (Texas) also played in the College World Series.

"We had our own hotel there, we'd been there so many times," joked Gardenhire, who played in the 1979 series. "Just kidding. I wish. But it's huge. When you get there it's almost surreal. 

"We got off the bus and walked through the hotel and there were all the Miami Hurricanes sitting in the lobby trash-talking us. Good stuff."

Wouldn't it be something if Hicks and Greiner and some of the others dogpile if the Tigers beat the Royals on Thursday night.

Twitter: @cmccosky