PEORIA, Ariz. – If John Hicks weren’t such a compelling Mariners prospect, he’d make a good Russell Wilson historian.
Hicks doesn’t just know the Seahawks quarterback. He played youth baseball with him. He can tell you about Wilson at age 13, when the now-undersized star was the biggest kid on the team.
On the Riverdogs, a traveling squad from Richmond, Va., Wilson was too big and overpowering. Hicks, a catcher, marveled at what a young Wilson could do on the mound. Wilson threw in the low-to-mid 80s. “For a 13-year-old, that’s pretty good,” Hicks said. And Wilson was too athletic to handle in all areas of the game. Hitting, fielding – he did everything at a high level.
Hicks, 23, and Wilson played together for two years. Then it was time for high school. Wilson went to Collegiate School, a preparatory school in Richmond, where he became a three-sport star in football, baseball and basketball. Hicks kept track of his former teammate at nearby Goochland High School.
Later, Wilson chose to attend college at North Carolina State, and Hicks chose Virginia, a fellow Atlantic Coast Conference member. It meant their baseball teams would battle. With a grin, Hicks recalls getting two hits off Wilson during a conference game in 2010.
“As you can tell from football, he’s got a great arm,” Hicks said of Wilson. “He was a low-90s guy who had a good slider in college. I actually remember both hits I had against him. One was a double down the line. And I singled off him. One pitch was a fastball, and the other was a slider. He had pretty good stuff.”
In June 2010, the Colorado Rockies selected Wilson in the fourth round of the draft, even though he hadn’t been able to commit to baseball full time at N.C. State. The Rockies loved his raw talent and wanted to groom Wilson as a second baseman.
Wilson wound up playing 93 games of low-level minor league baseball over two summers, hitting only .229 with 118 strikeouts in 315 at-bats before devoting himself to football. He transferred from N.C. State and attended Wisconsin his senior season, and he led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl.
Now, after an amazing and unexpected rookie season in Seattle, Wilson is the Seahawks’ franchise quarterback.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Hicks, who still has a friendly relationship with Wilson.
Wilson has captivated the city Hicks hopes to play in someday.
The Mariners drafted him in the fourth round in 2011. If not for Mike Zunino, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Hicks would be talked about as the M’s catcher of the future.
He has an extraordinary skill set. He’s 6-foot-2 and weighs 210 pounds, and he’s lean and athletic. Hicks looks like an outfielder and runs like an outfielder (22 stolen bases in Class A High Desert last season), but as a catcher, he brings a strong defensive presence. A year ago, he led the minor leagues by throwing out 53.8 percent of runners who tried to steal bases on him.
Hicks also hit .321 with 15 home runs and 79 runs batted in in 121 games last season, his first full year as a pro.
Josh Donaldson hit a pair of long home runs as the Oakland Athletics’ game against the Seattle Mariners was rained out in the top of the fourth inning with the Athletics ahead 12-1 Friday in Peoria. Seattle right-hander Hector Noesi allowed six earned runs. five hits, two walks and a hit batter, his third bad outing in four appearances.