By Rob Rains
Jennifer Hicks woke up Monday morning and saw a text message from her son Jordan that he had sent several hours earlier letting her know that after weeks of thinking about it, he had decided to not pitch for the Cardinals this season.
“It’s something that he’s really been struggling with,” Mrs. Hicks said in a telephone conversation Monday night. “What’s the best thing to do? I think ultimately he came to this decision. It definitely wasn’t easy.
“This is something he’s been talking about behind the scenes for a really long time. He’s been very transparent with multiple conversations. I think he’s kind of known for a little bit and just had to follow his heart. He wanted to make sure that it was the right thing to do.”
She said there was not one thing which happened that influenced Hicks’ decision to not play this season.
“Even before they decided to come back, while they were still negotiating, he was tossing it around then; what are my options, what can I do?” Mrs. Hicks said. “The closer it got the more real it got.”
Hicks is a Type-1 diabetic, which puts him at a higher risk for coronavirus and at a higher risk for complications should be become ill. Because of that pre-existing condition he will still be paid for this season and also receive a full year of service time.
“Even the coaches were making sure everybody was taking extra precautions because of him,” Mrs. Hicks said. “He really has taken a very serious outlook on the whole situation. He doesn’t want to get sick, doesn’t want to get anybody sick. Any time he gets ill it sends his blood sugar really high, and if that happens he could go into ketosis or a coma; there’s multiple things that could go wrong. The complications are more severe.”
The former closer for the Cardinals, Hicks also is still recovering from last summer’s Tommy John surgery. He has been in the team’s summer camp at Busch Stadium while continuing to rehab from that operation but manager Mike Shildt already had said Hicks would not be on the team’s 30-man roster when the season begins on July 24.
After going home to Houston when spring training was canceled in mid-March, Hicks knew how serious it could be if he were to contract the virus because of his diabetes.
“When this whole COVID thing began he didn’t leave the house for two months,” Mrs. Hicks said. “He literally self-quarantined. He said he wasn’t going out and he wasn’t seeing anyone. I think it was Memorial Day before he came out of the house. It was an extended period of time. He’s just taken it really seriously from all aspects.”
Hicks learned he had diabetes when he was a junior in high school and has always been committed to taking care of his health ever since.
“The more he’s gotten into baseball, the more he’s gotten healthier and he’s really figured out how to do things differently,” Mrs. Hicks said. “After he had the surgery last summer he really got focused on his diet and making sure he ate the right things because he knew how significant it could or could not be in his recovery process.”
Mrs. Hicks said both of her daughters had to be tested for coronavirus because they had been exposed to the virus but both tested negative. Her husband is a driver for UPS, so he also has to be conscientious about making sure he follows health and safety protocols.
“We understand the level of concern,” she said. “When he (Jordan) was quarantining over the spring I was like, ‘Can we hang out?’ and he said, ‘Mom I love you but I’m not taking any chances.’ He was even very strict with us.”
Hicks, 23, had originally been projected to return sometime in August but his rehab had become more complicated because of the cancelation of the minor-league season, where he normally would have been able to make several rehab appearances before joining the major-league team.
“I’m sure that had something to do with it but I don’t know that it was a huge factor,” Mrs. Hicks said. “He’s very methodical and has a plan and wants to stick to his plan. … It’s the best decision for him.”
Hicks has not spoken with the media since the summer camp began. His decision was announced by the Cardinals in a press release.
In a statement posted to Twitter on Monday following the team’s announcement, Hicks said, “After much thought and consideration, I have decided to opt out of the 2020 season. I’d like to thank the Cardinals and my teammates for their support in my decision.
“I look forward to being a part of winning a World Series in 2021 for Cardinal Nation and using my platform to create more awareness for the diabetic community.”
In the team’s press release, John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, said, “We respect and understand Jordan’s decision to opt out this season. We wish him well as he continues his recovery from elbow surgery, and we look forward to seeing Jordan back on the mound for the 2021 season.”
Hicks had not had any setbacks in his recovery from the surgery and now knows he can focus on preparing to be ready next spring.
“He’s very comfortable, he feels strong, he feels healthy, he feels good,” Mrs. Hicks said. “He just wants to be sure he doesn’t get sick. He doesn’t want any setbacks. He’s worked so hard to get here.”
Hicks is the first player on the Cardinals to decide not to play in this delayed 60-game season but several players on other teams also have made that decision to sit out the year.
“He’s always looking out for his best interests,” Mrs. Hicks said. “It’s more about longevity I think more than anything else. It might take somebody 14 days (to recover if they got sick) it might take him four weeks or six weeks; you just don’t know. He doesn’t want the possibility of any setbacks.”
Hicks also could now benefit from not trying to come back in the middle of the pandemic, reducing the mental strain he could be under because of worrying and trying to make sure he did not get sick.
Hicks became the Cardinals closer midway through his rookie season in 2018 and had 14 saves last season before he was injured in June and missed the rest of the year.
The Cardinals have not settled on a closer to replace Hicks this season and could well go with a closer-by-committee approach, especially if Carlos Martinez returns to the starting rotation. The most likely candidates to close games, at least early in the year, are Ryan Helsley and Andrew Miller, with another candidate, Giovanny Gallegos, yet to report to the team’s camp in St. Louis. The only reason for his absence provided by the team has been “travel issues.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports