It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that baseball’s toughest position is being behind home plate.
A catcher’s job requires catlike quickness to step from the plate and throw the ball to second base on a steal attempt, blocking balls that are in the dirt, handling balls that are tipped off the bat, physical strength because you are squatting for nine innings, seeing the game as it develops and perhaps most important of all, the ability to call for the correct pitches and location.
The next most difficult position to master is shortstop, which also requires being quick-footed and quick-handed with a cannon-like throwing arm when the ball is hit deep into the hole and then being able to turn the double play, and ready for anything and everything that can possibly happen on a baseball field.
Not far behind those two is being relief pitcher, which asks a hurler to enter a contest with no one on base, one runner on base, two runners on and in the most dreaded situation, three runners on base.
This is truly living on the edge while walking on a tightrope. Some can handle the situation while others simply cannot.
Onetime Burroughs High pitcher Kyle Nicol was a reliever and then a starting pitcher during his senior season.
After playing one season at Cal State University Northridge, Nicol, who doesn’t throw hard and comes sidearm with an almost submarine-like motion, redshirted the next because of an injury.
Nicol then transferred to Glendale Community College where he was both a starting pitcher and a reliever.
Nicol will attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo this fall, where he will continue his baseball career as a reliever.
What was the experience like playing for CSUN and then playing for the Vaqueros?
“There were a lot of factors that led to my transfer to Glendale,” said Nicol, who played four years for the Indians. “Part of the decision was based on academics and some had to do with the culture of the school and baseball team. I just felt that it was not a good fit for me personally.”
There had to be some positive that Nicol, who appeared in 17 games with eight starts and two saves for GCC in 2019, took away the lone season as a Matador?
“I learned lessons at CSUN that are invaluable,” he said. “It helped me learn to fight through adversity and deal with difficult situations, on and off the field.”
It seems that the fit was much better at GCC for Nicol, who went 0-3 with a 4.23 earned-run average and 38 strikeouts with 16 walks across 38 and one-third innings, despite it being a junior college. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more of my experience at Glendale,” he said. “The program is run very well and the coaches do a lot for their players. Transferring to Glendale helped me get to Cal Poly and was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m extremely thankful for everyone over at GCC.”
Nicol said the surgery was necessary and though it ruined his second season at CSUN, he’s ready to move forward.
“The surgery was a setback, but I’ve fully recovered and I feel better than ever on the mound,” he said.
As a reliever, it’s critical that one doesn’t get rattled and out of sorts.
Nicol wasn’t when he pitched for Burroughs and has maintained that assuredness three years later.
What does Nicol feel is his best quality on the hill when he’s facing a tough batter in a tough situation? “I would say my best asset is my composure,” he said.
Nicol wasn’t a hard thrower at the prep level, but was still able to get batters out. Did Nicol have a secret weapon?
“I feel that my best pitch is the slider,” he said when asked what he likes to throw when it’s a tight situation.
Someone who knows Nicol, who started five games with eight appearances and one save while posting a 3.68 ERA in 22 frames in the Western State Conference, is longtime Burbank-area baseball coach Craig Sherwood, who was the head man for Burroughs during the time Nicol played there.
“When I first saw him throw I thought he would be a natural submarine type pitcher,” he said. “All I really did was give him an opportunity and he made it special.”
What does Sherwood think made Nicol stand out in a crowd?
“One of the things that makes Kyle special is his competitiveness and the will to succeed,” he noted. “It is something that is inherent in all great players. He gets into a big situation and excels every time.”
The game that drew attention to Nicol, who fanned 17 and walked nine in WSC action, from Division I baseball coaches was the gem he threw at perennial power Harvard-Westlake in 2016 title game that clinched the prestigeous Easton Tournament.
As a relief pitcher, does Nicol feel any additional pressure knowing that it’s generally late in the game and it’s a high-leverage situation when he’s called in?
“I try to treat every game the same,” he said. “As a reliever, I have to be ready every day, so a good throwing routine is important.”
As one gets older, and especially in sports, each level should get more difficult. Has Nicol noticed this to be the case as he’s progressed as a baseball player?
“The competition is definitely better as you climb the ladder,” he said. “Everyone is trying to make it to the next level.”
When someone begins playing baseball, many have desires of playing at the highest level. Is Nicol any different?
“It’s every ballplayer’s dream to play professional baseball,” he said. “When so many of your teammates or former teammates get drafted and sign pro contracts, it’s a huge motivator to try to reach that level as well. I just want to play for as long as the game allows me to.”
Nicol said that watching college teams on television and then actually playing against them was a thrill.
“Pitching against teams that I grew up watching at schools like UCLA and Vanderbilt is pretty cool,” he said.
Classes at Nicol’s third college begin soon and he’s looking forward to a new chapter in both his studies and baseball career.
“I’m excited to start at Cal Poly with a clean slate and see what the future holds,” he said.