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Confidence has allowed Hickman to blossom on the mound for Iowa

BY RYAN RODRIGUEZ | APRIL 24, 2015 5:00 AM

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Confidence is the ability to win games before they have started, the willingness to get back up after failing and do the same thing to come out on top the next time around.

Confidence is bold. The tenacity to ignore the circumstances surrounding the current situation all the while knowing that you have what it takes to beat it.

Confidence personified, Iowa pitcher Blake Hickman has taken that mindset and amplified it this season.

“Now that I’m a pitcher, I think you have to be confident,” Hickman said. “Now that you’re facing nine guys throughout the whole lineup, you have to carry yourself with a lot of confidence to be out on the mound and be in control.”

Now that Hickman has moved to the other end of the battery, the confidence in his abilities, both mental and physical, has allowed the junior hurler to propel himself into the upper echelon of baseball talent in the Big Ten.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

“I think sometimes you see guys get complacent, but that’s never been the case for Blake,” Iowa pitching coach Scott Brickman said. “We know that success comes from preparation, and he does a tremendous job with preparing on a weekly basis.”

A standout on the Simeon (Chicago) baseball team, an athlete factory, Hickman came to Iowa three years ago as a catcher and converted first basemen.

Needing to bolster a group of arms that was still woefully thin on the depth chart, the Iowa coaching staff asked Hickman to channel that insane velocity and try his hand on the mound for the Hawkeyes. 

The transition was rocky to say the least.  The then-20-year-old Hickman couldn’t find the control to match the velocity on his 93 mph fastball, and his ERA in 17 appearances ballooned to almost 4 runs per game.

Unable to control the situation at hand, Hickman frequently let his opponents get the better of him once he got in a hole.

“I think he’ll probably admit this too, but last year, there were times in which he would get into trouble and have a hard time trying to figure out how to stop it,” Brickman said. 

A summer halfway across the country in the Cape Cod League allowed Hickman to grow from within, returning to Iowa City this past fall a completely changed player both mentally and physically. 

No longer the easily rattled player he was a year ago, a growth in confidence has transformed Hickman from a work in progress to Iowa’s ace in the hole.

“This year he really has the ability to hit the rest button and refocus,” Brickman said. “Last year, if he had a slipup, it might have been 3 or 4 runs; this year, it’s maybe 1.”

More than anything else, Hickman desperately needed time to work on the control issues that plagued him his first year on the mound. 

Already the owner of a blistering fastball, Hickman added a slider that serves twofold as a devastating off-speed changeup that’s become nearly impossible for opposing batters to make contact with.

And while opposing teams have started to take notice, so have the Hawkeyes.

“Playing in center field, I can see every pitch, and Blake has a lot of movement on his curveball or slider,” senior Eric Toole said. “His changeup moves a lot, too. When you can throw 95 or 96, that off-speed stuff is a huge thing to have.”

No longer a one-trick pony, Hickman’s arsenal is quickly becoming one of the nastiest in the conference.

“If you’re only throwing fastballs, anybody can time up your pitches no matter how hard you’re throwing,” Hickman said. “Doesn’t matter if you’re throwing 100, 95, or 85. I think if I have all my pitches working to go along with that, I’ll be sitting pretty come game time.”

Now 6-1 and the owner of the lowest opposing batting average on the team, Hickman’s confidence has allowed him to come full circle and blossom into the talent on the mound that head coach Rick Heller and Brickman saw in him last season.

“He was a work in progress last season but the way he’s grown into the mental part of the game this year has been great,” Brickman said. “And really, that’s something he should get all of the credit for.”

Follow @ryanarod on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa baseball team.


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