Thursday, April 5, 2012

This One Is Special

A week ago Terry Collins made an announcement that assured this Opening Day would be amazing. He said Mike Nickeas had made the team. Nickeas would be the backup catcher. Announcing the backup catcher isn't normally big news for anybody. It isn't normally little news either. But I was ecstatic.

Mike Nickeas has gone from Texas Rangers prospect to that guy the Mets got for Victor Diaz to oft-injured minor leaguer to organizational catching depth to AA all star to finally being a major leaguer. He was the "other" option for backup catcher for a couple of years. He would be with the Mets in September or if someone was injured but otherwise he would hang around in the minors. He did make the Opening Day roster last season but it was only because Ronny Paulino was suspended. He technically didn't earn his roster spot.

So this year it was different. The Mets made it clear they were not going to spend major money on a catcher. Josh Thole would be the starter and Mike Nickeas, Rob Johnson, and Lucas May would compete for the job of the backup catcher. Knowing the pitchers and the organization gave Nickeas a head start but he was not going to assume the spot was his. The Mets told him he needed to improve his offense to make the team and that is what he did. He shortened his swing and changed the way he hit the ball. Some people will see that he didn't hit over .300 and think he didn't make any improvements but I'm glad the Mets saw more than his batting average. They saw the work he put in outside what's in the box score, the stuff the fans don't see, and decided he deserved the job.

(And for those people that want tangible results, in the two days after he made the team he hit a double and a home run. A little confidence boost can go a long way.)

When I try to figure out why Mike Nickeas is my favorite player I never get very far. Yes, there is everything about getting his autograph in 2008 and deciding I would root for him no matter what. However, there is so much more than that.

Rooting for him brought me to minor league baseball and since 2008 I have wanted to read and learn everything about that side of the game. Players like Dirk Hayhurst have written about their experiences in the game and have given the fans a glimpse into the life of a minor leaguer. It's no walk in the park even when you are playing a game for a living. Players come and go, with each draft bringing more prospects and non-prospects into an organization and it takes a lot to stick around.

Mike Nickeas stuck around. I don't know which overused cliché to use. Determination, perseverance, love of the game. Whatever it was, he came back every year, played wherever the Mets sent him, and was leader for whoever was on the team with him. He just always seemed to appreciate playing the fame game. He doesn't take for granted that he gets to play the best game ever for a living. He appreciates his fans, something I will be forever greatful for.

For years I would only know he was in the lineup if I checked the B-Mets or Bisons box score. Knowing that following his season will just mean following the Mets is special. It is an amazing feeling and I'm just a fan. I cannot begin to imagine how awesome it is for him. It's easy to root a guy when you know he has never stopped working hard to get where he is today.

That is why I am wearing my #13 Mike Nickeas jersey today and why I wore it to school the day after he made the team. No matter how many people write him off or have not even heard of him at all won't change him being the biggest name in my book.

Congratulations, Mike! You deserve this roster spot and every second you spend in the Major Leagues.

Let's Go Mets!

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