2003-07-31 / Sports
Former Westlake High School baseball star makes national team
Acorn Sports Writer
Mike Nickeas, who starred at catcher for Westlake High School’s baseball team, and who will be a junior at Georgia Tech in the fall, is playing on the 2003 U.S.A. Baseball National Team this summer.
Nickeas joins the 20-man roster, and in doing so becomes only the second player in USA baseball history to make all three national amateur teams after having made the 16-under youth team in 1999, then the 18-under junior team in 2001.
Nickeas finished a successful sophomore year at Georgia Tech, one of the nation’s top Division I teams, and expects to be drafted to play professional baseball after next season—his junior year of college.
He batted .333 with seven home runs, 44 RBIs, 41 runs scored and 16 doubles in 58 games last season.
During his freshman year at Georgia Tech, Nickeas played in 33 games and batted 95 times, but he was primarily a backup catcher to Tyler Parker. Not starting every game was something Nickeas had to adapt to that year.
"It was definitely a tough deal for me," Nickeas said. "I compare it a little bit to my freshman year at Westlake. I was playing some of the time, I wasn’t other times. And it was an adjustment being away from home, that was a difficult thing."
Nickeas said he’s very close with his mother, Sherrie, his father, Mark, a former pro soccer player in England, and his sister, Hailey, 16, who will be a junior at Thousand Oaks High School this year.
"It was a tough issue for me to deal with," said Nickeas, about attending college all the way across the country. "But I overcame it, and it worked out to be one of the best years in my baseball career thus far just because of all the valuable lessons I learned."
Though he got the needed support from home, Nickeas learned he could be self-sufficient during his freshman year at Georgia Tech.
"I was basically own my own," he said. "And for the first time in my life I had to mature rather quickly. Being able to balance schoolwork and baseball was tough, and not playing as much as I was used to was definitely tough, but it humbled me, and it made me appreciate all the time that I did get to play."
Even though he was dedicated to baseball in high school when he played for Chuck Berrington at Westlake, Nickeas said the level of commitment is even greater playing big-time college ball.
"I thought I played a lot in high school," he said. "Then I got to college and it was like, ‘Wow.’ It’s an everyday deal. It’s a year-round commitment with weight training, conditioning and practices. It’s constant. And having to deal with schoolwork on top of that is a difficult thing.
"It’s definitely been a learning experience," Nickeas added. "I’ve learned a ton about baseball, a ton more than I thought I ever needed to know, and I’ll just continue to learn."
Nickeas found time to enjoy college life away from baseball, though.
"It’s been a great experience, I’ve met some great people. I have great friends out here and I couldn’t ask for much better," he said.
Nickeas started 57 of 58 games for Georgia Tech last season, catching most of them, but also playing some third base as well as designated hitter. His .333 average led the team. Georgia Tech won at the ACC championship but was eliminated earlier in the playoffs than expected.
He said the team’s primary goal for the 2004 season will be to go further into the NCAA playoffs. "That’s our No. 1 goal," Nickeas said. "To be there in the end, in Omaha." The college World Series in played in Omaha. Georgia Tech made it there in 2002, Nickeas’ freshman year.
"That was an awesome experience," Nickeas said. "Hopefully with a couple of years under my belt, I can help lead the Georgia Tech team back there."
Nickeas said he greatly appreciates being able to represent the U.S.A. on the National baseball team this summer.
"Any time you have the opportunity to represent your country—in anything—it’s a tremendous honor," he said. "To be able to represent it playing our national pastime is very special."
Nickeas said playing for Westlake was important in his progression as a baseball player. "Westlake has a great background for athletics," said Nickeas, who was also a four-year member of the honor roll there. "And a great background for baseball. Westlake baseball is kind of a launching pad, and I think it will be in the future as well. Hopefully, I’ll keep it going."