Countdown to game time: 05/11/20


35 Years Young and Still Livin’ the Dream

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 I’m the white Satchel Paige,” he explained. “I’m a guy who can play till he’s 45, 46 years old. I still feel young even though I’m 35 five now. I don’t feel 35 and I don’t feel like my arm acts like it’s 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 team’s 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

Bicknell’s 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 he’d never see: Taiwan, where he pitched for three years before returning to the States and signing with the T-Bones.

“I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum. I’ve had good years and I’ve had bad years,” Bicknell said. “And throughout it all, I’ve 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 won’t have any regrets.”

Bicknell’s words could be applied to life just as easily to baseball. That’s the kind of maturity he brings to the T-Bones’ young pitching staff.

“Bicknell is a veteran pitcher who knows how to pitch and he’s 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 doesn’t throw real hard, but he knows how to pitch and he knows how to set batters up.”

A simple plan

The secret to Bicknell’s 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 team’s 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 haven’t 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 he’s been in Kansas City. In five outings, the right-hander has recorded more than four times as many strikeouts (29) as walks (7). He’s recorded at least five strikeouts in four of his first five starts and set a season high with eight K’s against Joliet last Tuesday.

In turn, the pitching staff as a whole has improved greatly in the past month. In fact, the team’s 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.

Mind games

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 what’s comfortable. That’s where a strong mind comes in handy,” Bicknell said. “As I’ve gotten older, that’s what’s 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 we’re so competitive,” Bicknell said. “Every time someone goes out and has a good outing, the next guy’s got something to live up to. That’s 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).

Looking ahead

Although the first half of the season hasn’t gone as desired for the T-Bones, the team’s 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 it’s 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.

“I’ve never stopped learning in this game,” he said. “I’ve learned things about the game, things about myself, and that’s a big reason why I’m still here. It’s the things I’ve learned and experienced.”

And what an experience it’s been.