It’s been over a week now since Aaron Hicks, the second-year Minnesota Twins centerfielder, quit being a switch hitter to being only a right-handed hitter. What brought him to that decision?
Poor front-office decision-making may have resulted in rushing up the young man to the big leagues too soon last season. Hicks should have perfected his batting skills in the minors; instead, he struggled last season and was sent back down.
This year thus far, Hicks is again struggling, leading him to stop his Judy Collins “Both Sides Now” batting and stick to one side only, a decision that caught his manager totally by surprise. “I never had anybody just shut it down [during the season] unless they had a problem with a wrist or a rib injury that only allowed him to swing one way,” admits Ron Gardenhire, who told the MSR that Hicks’ in-season decision was the first of his managerial career.
“He told me he had been thinking about this for a while. He says he had worked very hard on his left-handed swing and it’s just not happening. He’s not helping himself and the team, so he wants to try it right-handed.
“I told him it is his career and a big decision,” continued the Twins’ skipper. “You got to stick with it, and I am behind you 100 percent.”
“It’s a side I feel comfortable with, and I decided I needed a change,” said Hicks as local reporters surrounded him at his locker after his first game as a right-hander. After the pack left, he talked further with the MSR.
“My dad actually wanted me to become a switch hitter primarily because he didn’t want me to play baseball,” recalls Hicks. “[He] got hit in the head with [a] 90 mph fastball, and that really scarred him for the rest of his baseball career. He never wanted to have me to go through that.”
Asked if the thought of abandoning being a big-league switch hitter would have come up if he hadn’t struggled at the plate, Hicks said, “If I wasn’t struggling, I probably wouldn’t have made the decision. I never would have done it.”
Despite his inability this far this season to crack the Mendoza Line with his bat, this hasn’t affected Hicks’ glove. He cleared the center field fence with his wrist over the top as he snatched down a potential three-run home run against Texas last week.
“That’s exactly why we want him out there,” noted Gardenhire afterwards. “It’s a special talent to time a ball like that and know where the wall is, then be able to jump and make a play like that.”
This is exactly why he is sticking with Hicks as Mayo Smith did with Ray Oyler at shortstop during the Detroit Tigers’ 1968 world championship season. Like the centerfielder, the late Oyler, who died in 1981, was a slick-fielding infielder but couldn’t hit a lick (.175 career average).
“He’s so gifted. He makes it look so easy, but it’s not easy what he does on the field,” marveled the manager on Hicks.
When asked what if Gardenhire had vetoed his batting decision, Hicks replied, “I think he would have been OK… This is more me making a career decision, and I made it. This is something I really want to do.”
The young man now must show his manager that his decision wasn’t wrong and start doing it at the plate. “I need to be successful [as a hitter],” concluded Hicks, “not only on fastballs but also hitting the breaking pitch and doing it the right way.”
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