There may not be a player in the game today whose on-field skills are more in alignment with the traits he also exhibits off the field: defense, sacrifice, team.
Nicky Lopez knows how to defend, it’s a key part of his game plan – and his baseball teammates, especially pitchers, certainly appreciate him for it. A commitment to playing defense is just that, a commitment. It takes individual skill of course, but defense in baseball is much more team-focused. And in that, Nicky is not only steady, but stellar. During the 2021 season, he led all American League shortstops with a .987 fielding percentage (only seven errors in 534 chances) including 72 consecutive games without committing a single error from May 5-Aug. 13 which set a new Kansas City Royals franchise record. His 19 runs prevented were also tops among all big league players. At the plate, he led all Major League position players with 12 sacrifice bunts – and lest one believe that sort of team focused approach came at the expense of getting on base himself, have no fear. Nicky also hit .300, good for fifth best in the American League with an on-base percentage of .365, which was 10th best in the circuit.
The seeds for using his skills and talents in service to others were set at home for Nicky, first by his parents and family, then by those around him in his hometown of Naperville, Ill. including those at his alma mater Naperville Central High School. It was there that he was nominated for the J. Kyle Braid Leadership Foundation program designed to empower high school students to improve lives and foster social harmony. Nicky viewed the opportunity and experience as life-changing for him. The program focuses on the pillars of strength, humility, service and compassion. All those attributes can be seen in the work Nicky has chosen to commit himself to both in his original hometown and now here in Kansas City.
When he first arrived in the Major Leagues with the Royals in 2019, Nicky jumped right into community efforts, including special Dream Factory visits at Kauffman Stadium with children struggling with critical or chronic illness. As The Dream Factory mission says, for those kids and their families who live each day not knowing what the future may bring, a dream granted brings a little ray of light, a little bit of hope and a lifetime of memories. Nicky knew immediately he wanted to be part of that team.
He always has a special place in his heart for those battling illness and those that selflessly take care of them. Back in Naperville, he donated his time to honor his high school teammate Justin Wegner, who lost a battle with cancer, as Justin’s family established the J Wegner Foundation in his memory. In Kansas City, Nicky was a regular in making visits to the University of Kansas Health System Hospital to spend time with both patients and caregivers. The challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic made those in-person visits much more difficult or impossible. But Nicky was undeterred in those times – his commitment remained. For the tireless health care workers on the front lines, he showed support in any way he could including donations of food – as a Chicagoland area native, especially pizza.
In the challenging year of 2020, Lopez started his own community initiative, which took the name of ‘Nicky’s #1’s.' Working with Royals community partners at Operation Breakthrough and YMCA Challenger, Nicky initially hosted a series of Zoom meetings with Kansas City-area youth to get face time with children in challenging circumstances in an effort to inspire confidence, positivity and healthy lifestyle choices during those most trying times. The program continued strong during the 2021 season with monthly Zoom meetings, in hopes to grow even bigger when safety allowed. In the summer of 2022, Nicky hosted the first "Nicky’s #1’s Day at The K," which brought in dozens of Operation Breakthrough and YMCA Challenger children to Kaufman Stadium where he spent the day with them on the field playing ball, interacting and providing inspiration. Nicky looks forward to building long-lasting relationships with ‘Nicky’s #1’s’ kids and has plans for more “Day at The K” events into the future.
Nicky has also partnered with BRGR Restaurants in Kansas City to create a new hot dog menu item called ‘The Nicky’ with proceeds going to the ‘Nicky’s #1’s’ program. To be sure, Nicholas Lopez was born and raised a mere 25 miles from Chicago, so yes ‘The Nicky’ is very much a Chicago-inspired hot dog. It’s a Vienna dog with chili relish, mustard, onions, banana peppers and cherry tomatoes – no ketchup, of course.
And he is not done. Nicky has also just partnered with Kansas City Credit Union to start the “Catch Success” program to promote and teach financial literacy to Kansas City area kids as part of the Launch Pad program at the Linwood YMCA. He is much more than the face of the program; Nicky appears at the YMCA to engage and assist kids in helping them start mock businesses with full business plans. He will take part in evaluating the ideas and plans to select the project award winners.
Nicky has often said, “I’ve been given a platform that’s bigger than me.” And he has made the commitment to use that platform in service to others. Nicky has taken his considerable baseball talents and his passionate core beliefs and made them work together to make a difference in the community in which he lives. We are so glad that community is Kansas City. Our community is better because Nicky Lopez is part of it.