The stands of Dr. Pepper Ballpark are empty as sounds of baseballs being hit echo throughout the stadium. The Texas Rangers’ Double-A team, the Frisco RoughRiders, are wrapping up batting practice before their August 3rd game against the San Antonio Missions. Batters hit from inside the batting cage as infielders take ground balls from coaches who stand to the side of the cage. At first base is Brett Nicholas, a former East Texas Pump Jack who made it to the next level.
Brett Nicholas grew up playing Little League honing his skills up through high school before deciding to go to Gonzaga University. However, a position change would take him away from the Bulldogs.
“I chose Gonzaga because the academics were unbeatable compared to the other schools I was getting offers from. I was playing outfield and decided I wanted to start catching,” Nicholas said. “But we had a really good catcher at Gonzaga who got drafted by the Diamondbacks so there was no room there. I transferred to a junior college back home, Scottsdale Community College, because you couldn’t go from school to school without sitting out a year.”
It was through his junior college coach, Alex Cherney, that Nicholas was introduced to the Texas Collegiate League.
“My junior college coach was actually the manager of the Pump Jacks (in 2009) so when I left junior college, he has a spot open and asked if I wanted to come out and play,” Nicholas said. “He told me what a great time it was and he wasn’t lying. It was a blast. Kilgore is really small but the people were some of the nicest I’ve ever come across.”
One person that Nicholas still has a strong friendship with is his host dad.
“My host dad is a guy named Russ Fisher. I still talk to him to this day and he’s an incredible man,” Nicholas said. “He opened up his home to us for the summer and it was something special.”
Nicholas split time between catcher and first base during his time with the East Texas Pump Jacks in 2009 and was named to the All-Texas Collegiate League team at the end of the season. He learned a lot during his time with the Pump Jacks and said he grew as a player.
“We had a really good coach with the Pump Jacks. He was a pitching coach but he helped with the catchers because of the relationship with the pitchers,” Nicholas said. “He helped me work on staying as quiet and still as possible behind the plate that way you can adjust quicker and present the ball better to the umpire.”
Nicholas added that the lifestyle he experience while with the Pump Jacks was great preparation for the minors.
“It was big because you did so much traveling. It helped you for the day to day grind that minor league baseball is as far as traveling and playing that night,” Nicholas said. “We had some long travels down to Victoria so it really helped. Also, it’s hotter than heck down here so it helped with getting your body in shape and making sure you could withstand a lot of games in a short amount of time.”
At the end of the summer, Nicholas went to play baseball at the University of Missouri for a year before being drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 draft by the Texas Rangers. Nicholas said he can remember being with his fiancée on draft day trying not to let his nerves get the best of him.
“I luckily went in the sixth round which is pretty early but I think everybody just tells you that you’ll go sooner so you sit by the computer or by your phone thinking alright, maybe this pick,” Nicholas said. “Luckily my fiancée was there to keep me calm. Once your name gets called, it’s combines everything you’ve worked for and it’s such a happy feeling. Your anxiety turns to complete joy so it’s an emotional whirlwind.”
Since then, Nicholas has worked his way up through the Rangers’ farm system to land in Double-A Frisco this season. Nicholas currently leads the team with the highest batting average and most home runs. He was also selected to the 2013 Texas League All-Star Game. Even though he has been recognized for his achievements this season, Nicholas said there’s always room for improvement.
“I know some of the names that have gone through the all-star teams here in the Texas League and they are some of the best that play the game. It was a huge honor and I think it was another stepping stone,” Nicholas said. “Everything has gone well so far but there’s more that needs to be done. It’s a nice thing to experience but to realize you’re not there (major leagues) yet, you know you need to work harder as you learn more.”
As Brett Nicholas works on continuing his climb to the majors, he said he never forgets his time with the East Texas Pump Jacks and hopes to give back.
“It was a great experience and it’s made me not only into a better baseball player but a better person, being around the quality of people that are in that town,” Nicholas said. “It’s helped me realize that when I get older I want to open my doors to somebody because somebody helped me out. I want to give back and be like Russ Fisher and provide somebody with the same experience he gave me and that I was fortunate enough to experience.”