10-year-old Evan Nickowski's baseball feat is out of the park
MARBLE FALLS — Just before stepping up to the plate May 2 in the bottom of the third inning with the bases loaded and two outs, Evan Nickowski did something unthinkable as a batter.
He turned to his dad, Jon Nickowski, who was standing outside the fence near the on-deck circle, with a different bat in his hand.
"I'm going to try this one," the fourth-grader told his dad.
Until then, he routinely used a 30-inch, 20-ounce bat. Evan, however, had wanted to give another bat a try, which is OK in practice, but this was a game. Ballplayers don't typically make such a decision during a game.
His dad said give it a try. After all, the 10U Panthers — Evan's team — had a sizable lead over their opponent. But this was still a bases-loaded, two-out situation.
Evan stepped up to the plate, placed the bat on his shoulder and looked at the pitcher. He had two thoughts on his mind: Get a base hit or take one for the team (baseball code for getting hit by a pitch).
The first pitch came in, and Evan let it go. A called ball.
The second pitch, though, caught Evan's attention. He tensed his body a bit, shifted his weight in anticipation of swinging and then, just at the right time, snapped his hips around and drove his upper body, arms extended, toward the oncoming ball. His wrists and hands snapped around just at the moment the ball and bat connected. The sound of the two bodies of mass hitting triggered Evan's instinct to run for first base.
He took a quick look at the ball as it sailed away but then focused his attention on racing for first. That's how he was coached, Evan later recounted.
But it wasn't until Evan looked up as he neared first base that he saw the opposing centerfielder climbing over the fence at the 200-foot mark.
"I think that's when I knew," he said about hitting his first out-of-the-park home run — a grand slam. And one at the deepest part of the field.
"We talked to a lot of people, and nobody can remember the last time someone's hit the ball over that part of the fence," his dad said. The umpire behind the plate told the Nickowskis that the last one he recalled was when his own son played youth ball a decade ago.
"When it went over the fence, everybody just went crazy," Jon said. "The coaches and parents, they were just up cheering."
As a 10-year-old who started playing with the league several years ago, he never really concentrated on hitting a home run, just following his coaches — Matt Becker and Brian Jones — coaching to put the ball in play. Though he competed in the all-stars last year, Evan doesn't play select league or get personal coaching.
Last year, Evan came close to punching one or two balls out at different fields, but never cleared it.
"His coaches and some parents told me this was his year," Jon said. "But it wasn't until the second to last game of the season."
Whether the first game or last game of the season, it doesn't matter. The first home run a ballplayer hits is one he or she will always remember. The opposing players found the ball and presented it to Evan.
He signed and dated the ball. He plans on putting it in a case, but for now, it's in his room somewhere.
While Evan acknowledged it was exciting to hit the home run, he's about the last one to mention it. Four days after the event, his dad was picking him up from school when he asked Evan's teacher if the 10-year-old had told her about the home run. She said no and turned to Evan, "Why didn't you say anything? That's such a big deal."
"But that's what is so amazing about him," Jon said about Evan, "he's just so humble. He wouldn't say anything about it unless I did or somebody asked."
Which is pretty much a proud dad's role.
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