07/01/2004 9:23 AM - by Paul Warner
For veteran pitcher Greg Bicknell, age is nothing more than an attitude.
I joke with the guys that Im the white Satchel Paige, he explained. Im a guy who can play till hes 45, 46 years old. I still feel young even though Im 35 five now. I dont feel 35 and I dont feel like my arm acts like its 35. I enjoy the game more now as an adult than I did when I was younger.
Bicknell may have a ways to go before matching the legendary Paige, who was believed to have pitched at the age of 59. But the point is well taken. Since joining the T-Bones in early June, Bicknell has been arguably the teams most consistent starter. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound native of Fresno, Calif., has won three of his first five outings and owns a team-best ERA of 3.38 among regular starters.
The road less traveled
Bicknells long professional trek to Kansas City has transcended more than 15 professional ball clubs, 10 leagues, two continents and countless bus rides. Bicknell was originally a 39th-draft choice of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989 after a standout career at Fresno City CC. Since then, he has played for three major league organizations and progressed as high as AA on two occasions. During his career, Bicknell has enjoyed the highs (10-7, 3.12 ERA in the Carolina League in 1992), endured the lows (4-6, 6.26 ERA in the Texas-Louisiana League in 1996), and after 15 years of professional baseball he has survived them all.
His journey has taken him all around the country and even to one he thought hed never see: Taiwan, where he pitched for three years before returning to the States and signing with the T-Bones.
Ive been at both ends of the spectrum. Ive had good years and Ive had bad years, Bicknell said. And throughout it all, Ive learned that the mind is what gets you through those tough times. You have to have a plan and you have to follow it. If you do that, you wont have any regrets.
Bicknells words could be applied to life just as easily to baseball. Thats the kind of maturity he brings to the T-Bones young pitching staff.
Bicknell is a veteran pitcher who knows how to pitch and hes a great example to our younger guys, said Kansas City manager Al Gallagher. (Pitching coach) Danny (Jackson) tells the pitchers to do this and that; Bicknell just goes out and does it. He doesnt throw real hard, but he knows how to pitch and he knows how to set batters up.
A simple plan
The secret to Bicknells success has been the application of a century-old baseball adage: Get ahead of the batter. Although he is not necessarily the most vocal player in the clubhouse, Bicknell has tried to get that point across to his fellow hurlers. He recalled the teams road trip to Joliet in the second week of June, his first series with the team. The T-Bones were swept in a four-game series by the JackHammers.
When I first got here, I was quiet and just kind of watched, Bicknell said. But what I saw was that the pitchers were trying to be too fine on the first pitch rather than just trying to get ahead in the count. When you get ahead of a hitter, it puts you in a whole different ball game. I still havent said a whole lot, I just try to go out and prove it by the way I do my work on the mound.
Bicknell has been a perfect example ever since hes been in Kansas City. In five outings, the right-hander has recorded more than four times as many strikeouts (29) as walks (7). Hes recorded at least five strikeouts in four of his first five starts and set a season high with eight Ks against Joliet last Tuesday.
In turn, the pitching staff as a whole has improved greatly in the past month. In fact, the teams ERA was more than a full run lower in the month of June than it was in May. In June alone, Kansas City pitchers have recorded three complete games and a shutout.
In a start against Sioux Falls on June 24, Bicknell allowed three runs in the first inning. Instead of getting flustered, he settled down stuck to the plan and held the Canaries scoreless in the next six innings in a 7-3 Kansas City win.
Sometimes pitchers get caught up in a situation with runners on base or with runners in scoring position and we want to abandon the game plan and just go back to whats comfortable. Thats where a strong mind comes in handy, Bicknell said. As Ive gotten older, thats whats really changed for me my mind is much stronger.
Bicknell believes that the recent turnaround experienced by the pitching staff has been fueled by the competitiveness of the starting pitchers. From the time he joined the starting rotation to the end of the T-Bones last home stand, Kansas City starters have gone 8-4 with a 3.67 ERA in 112.2 innings pitched. Moreover, starting pitchers have struck out 86 batters, compared to just 33 walks during that time.
I think (the starting pitchers) have a great relationship with each other because were so competitive, Bicknell said. Every time someone goes out and has a good outing, the next guys got something to live up to. Thats how we feed off each other.
Living up to the previous starter has been quite a task lately especially in the T-Bones last home stand. Jonathan Krysa set a franchise record with 11 strikeouts against Joliet last Monday and Bicknell picked up a pair of wins while allowing just five runs in 14 innings of work (3.21 ERA).
Although the first half of the season hasnt gone as desired for the T-Bones, the teams post-season hopes are still very much alive due to playoff format of the Northern League. Kansas City enjoyed a strong finish in June with 10 wins in 18 games to close out the month and has built momentum with the start of the second half on the horizon.
I know just from being around the game for so long that pitching and defense are what wins games, Bicknell said. So its going to come to those two aspects and I think we have what it takes.
Looking back over a career of more than 300 games, 100 wins, and 200 starts, Bicknell can say one thing: It was worth every minute.
Ive never stopped learning in this game, he said. Ive learned things about the game, things about myself, and thats a big reason why Im still here. Its the things Ive learned and experienced.
And what an experience its been.