It’s one thing to be one of the best players to come through a high school program.
But in the case of Nathan Hickey, it might carry even more weight that folks consider him the best baseball player in his family.
The Hickey family has long supplied Granbury High baseball with great players. Each has played a key role in the Pirates’ tradition of success.
Nathan, a senior, is set to leave his legacy as the best the Hickey family has delivered.
To say the right-handed pitcher has been anything short of dominant this season would be like calling Godzilla a gecko. He has a perfect game, two one-hitters and a two-hitter.
When Hickey steps on the mound, odds are someone is getting out – and most likely struck out.
“He’s taken from dads, uncles, cousins and built on it,” said Granbury head coach Brad Eppler. “He’s taken every piece of knowledge out there for him and used it to help him become the great player he is.
“Combine that with his incredible talent, and you see what he can do.”
HE KNEW FROM THE START
Hickey said he knew right away in youth baseball that he wanted to be a pitcher.
“I pitched from the first year I could. I heard my dad talk about it, and I wanted to do it also,” he said.
“My dad (Bill Hickey) was a pitcher for Granbury High, and I got a lot of pointers from him. So was my uncle (Allen Hickey).”
Hickey has four main pitches in his repertoire. A two-seam fastball that comes in as high as 91 mph is his strikeout pitch, but he’s also got a pretty mean curve, circle changeup and knuckle curve.
“My dad threw a good knuckleball,” said Hickey.
“I never threw a changeup in my life until eighth grade. My uncle Allen and Jared (cousin) took me out and showed it to me.”
Hickey remembers coming to his cousins’ practices, watching players, dreaming of being a Pirate himself someday.
“I always came up here and watched guys throw,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to get to high school.”
As impressive as his pitching stats are (8-1, 1 save, 0.47 ERA), Hickey is also the Pirates’ leading hitter with a .495 average. He’s also one of the top fielding shortstops in the area.
But pitching is Hickey’s passion. Eppler believes his future could lie in the big leagues.
“Once he turns into just a pitcher, he’ll specialize his workouts, and he has the potential to be in some elite company in the history to play this game,” said Eppler.
“My goal for him is that in the spring five years from now he’s still playing baseball. That’s more of an expectation than a goal.”
That, of course, would mean Hickey is out of college and pitching professionally, something he’s always longed for.
“It’s been my dream since I started to play Major League Baseball,” Hickey said.
“When I was little I carried baseball stuff everywhere I went. I told my parents I was going to support them by playing Major League Baseball.”
Numerous colleges have taken a serious look at Hickey. The University of Oklahoma was rumored to have a scout at a recent game.
If so, what the scout saw was not only a sterling mound performance, but also Hickey’s toughness. He was pitching with an injury on his non-pitching hand.
And while it was not serious enough to sideline him, Hickey said it was extremely painful each time he caught a ball thrown back from catcher Landon Gray. It also hurt when he batted.
He pitched a two-hitter that night.
“Nathan, even not at his best, is still better than just about anybody else,” said Eppler.
Hickey, while quiet, understands he is the leader of this season’s Pirates.
“Somebody’s got to be that leader. Being me, I feel like I’ve got to step up and set an example for younger players so they will want to be that leader when they have a chance,” he said.
“I do what I can to get them to work harder.”
And Eppler said there is no one who works harder than Hickey, something that has been a family trait for years.
“When I was in the eighth grade and my brother (Brian) was a senior, I’d come up here with him,” said Hickey.
“It’s (hard work) just what I do. I don’t have to be here early or on weekends to do stuff, but it’s all about being the best player I can be.
“When coach says be here at 10, I’m here at 9:30.”
While humble, Hickey admits that when he’s on the mound, there is a certain ego that kicks in for all pitchers – especially the great ones. It helps them handle the pressure, he said.
“When you’re pitching, all eyes are on you,” he said.
“If you walk a batter, everyone sees it, the coach is watching. Then, the pressure increases, and if you walk another he sees that too.”
To prepare for the pressurized moment, Hickey has a pregame routine, as do almost all players.
“When you see me before a game, I have headphones on and blaring music,” he said. “Nobody talks to me. They know not to talk to me.”
As is the case with most great players, Hickey has to sometimes step away from the game completely. When he does, you can usually find him doing something outdoors.
“I love to fish and hunt,” he said. “If I’m not playing baseball anywhere on the weekends, I’ll be fishing or hunting somewhere.”
Inevitably, high school careers come to an end, and so will Hickey’s soon. Even if the Pirates make a run to the state tournament, it’s a matter of just a few more games.
“I’ll cry,” said Eppler. “We move on, so do they (players), but some are harder to watch go than others.”
The Hickey tradition will be carried on by his brother Matthew, a freshman outfielder on the varsity squad. Nathan said he has enjoyed the two playing together and has given a lot of thought to his final game as a Pirate.
“On senior night you realize it’s close to over,” he said.
“But when high school is over you move on to a new chapter, and I’m excited to see what’s on the next page.”
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