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Late Hickey remembered fondly on South Side

Late Hickey remembered fondly on South Side

ANAHEIM -- Mark Salas knew he was in for a long round of golf every time he played with Kevin Hickey. He also knew, because the round was with Hickey, that he was going to enjoy every second of it.

Hickey, a beloved pregame instructor for the White Sox since 2004 and a former Sox reliever died at the age of 56 on Wednesday morning at Rush University Medical Center, where he had spent the last month. Hickey, a diabetic, was found unresponsive in his hotel room on April 5, and he never regained consciousness.

Salas, the club's bullpen coach who was close with Hickey, said he'll remember Hickey for his mentality as a perfectionist -- whether on the golf course cleaning every club thoroughly after every shot, or at the ballpark, throwing batting practice "until his arm fell off."

"Everything had to perfect," Salas said. "He always wrote notes for himself. His mind ran a mile a minute, doing everything to try to help. He was a giver. He always talked about how he'd be in the foxhole with you. That's the kind of guy you want next to you.

"Anybody would ask for help, and he'd be right there. He'd go in the cage and he'd flip for hours. He'd throw from his knee, one-handed, guys would say, 'Hey, take a break,' he'd say no. He didn't know how to."

Hickey is survived by his partner, Anna D'Agata, his mother, his five daughters and three grandchildren.

He pitched six seasons in the Major Leagues with Chicago (1981-83) and Baltimore ('89-91). He was 9-14 with a 3.91 ERA and 17 saves in 231 career games, all in relief.

"The energy he had every day, what he brought to the field, he always had a smile on his face, and he always worked hard," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "It's a shame. He loved the White Sox, he loved baseball, he loved White Sox baseball. Nobody wanted you to do better than he did. He'll be sorely missed."

In Spring Training, White Sox manager Robin Ventura joked that Hickey could put hitters into slumps during BP if he wanted to because his stuff was still good enough.

A few weeks later, Hickey was found unresponsive in his hotel room in Texas on April 5 after he missed the team's workout prior to Opening Day. He was taken to Parkland Hospital in Dallas and transferred to Rush a week later.

Former manager Ozzie Guillen paid his respects to Hickey through Twitter, noting Wednesday was a "very sad day for my family and sox family."

Guillen then tweeted: "I hope is a golf course in heaven and hick man par tha golf course"

Ed Farmer, currently the White Sox radio play-by-play man, played for one season with Hickey in Chicago. When Hickey's name was mentioned, Farmer's eyes lit up.

He recalled a game in 1981 in which Hickey took the loss because Farmer allowed the man Hickey had left on first base to score. A month later, Farmer was in line for the win when he ran into a jam that Hickey worked out of.

"He saved the game in Baltimore after I'd given up the tying run," Farmer said. "[Then-manager Tony] La Russa put Kevin in the game, and he saved the game. He looked at me after and said, 'You get me a loss and I get you a win.'"

Farmer's relationship with Hickey dates back to high school, where the two each attended local St. Rita High. Hickey grew up in Chicago's Brighton Park neighborhood and finished his schooling at Kelly High School before fulfilling a childhood dream.

He did not play high school baseball, but was successful as a 16-inch softball player after graduating.

Hickey was then invited to a tryout at Comiskey Park, where he was offered a Minor League contract -- the only one given to any of the 250 players at the tryout.

Hickey spent three seasons in the White Sox farm system, before he made his Major League debut on April 14, 1981.

"Kevin Hickey was the ultimate long shot, the classic underdog," former White Sox general manager Roland Hemond, who signed Hickey in 1978, said in a release. "You couldn't help but root for him. Kevin did the absolute most with every single opportunity he received and earned every bit of his success."

Salas recalled getting yelled at by Hickey because he drove through puddles in the golf cart. He recalled Hickey hitting a golf ball off the lawn of an angry tenant who threatened to take the keys to the golf cart and call the marshal.

Then, Salas, who was busy rubbing game balls with mud to ready them for Wednesday's game against the Angels, recalled one final story that seemed especially fitting.

A few years earlier, seeing Salas rubbing up the baseballs, Hickey generously approached Salas and offered to split the duties.

"He'd rub one ball and then go wash his hands," Salas said. "I had to kick him out."

AJ Cassavell is a contributor to
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