When Crowder baseball coach Travis Lallemand spoke with former Roughrider Mike Kickham on the phone Sunday night, it was as if Kickham was at a loss for words.
“It wasn’t that he didn’t talk, but it was kind of like his engine was running with no driver behind the wheel,” Lallemand joked.
Kickham had good reason for his lack of words. Some 30 minutes before Lallemand’s call, the 6’4, 210 pound lefty had just received the call he’d been waiting for all of his life. The San Francisco Giants had purchased his contract and called him up to the big leagues.
After posting a 3-4 record with a 4.33 ERA through 10 games for the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies — the Giants’ minor league affiliate in Fresno, Calif. — the Giants called him up to start in place of injured Ryan Vogelsong against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday in Oakland. The game is also the MLB.com Game of the Day, so his start will be one of the most watched across the globe.
“He’s worked his way through the system and now he’s got a chance to pitch in the big leagues,” Lallemand said. “He’s a very intelligent guy, and that intelligence kind of leaks over into his maturity. Of course, being left handed and (pitching) in the mid-90s doesn’t hurt either.”
While there are numerous former Roughriders scattered amongst the professional baseball ranks every season, Kickham will become the first Roughrider to see time in the Major Leagues since Andy Ashby pitched his final game with the San Diego Padres on Sept. 14, 2004. Ashby was among two former Roughriders in the big leagues that season, with Wheaton, Mo., product Travis Phelps pitching his final big league game for Milwaukee three days earlier in 2004.
Kickham will become the first Roughrider to start a game on the mound since Ashby for the Dodgers on Aug. 23, 2003.
A prep standout at Glendale High School in Springfield, Mo., Kickham pitched one season at Crowder in 2009 where he went 3-3 with a 5.62 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings. He then moved on to Missouri State, where he put together a solid career and was drafted by the Giants in the sixth round of the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft.
The son of Kevin and Dana Kickham, the 6’4, 210 lefty earned all-Ozarks, all-conference and all-district honors at Glendale, while also being named 2008 Springfield Leadoff Club MVP. He pitched to a 1.16 ERA as a senior at Glendale with 65 strikeouts.
His best professional season came last year when he posted an 11-10 record with a 3.05 ERA with 137 punchouts and 75 walks in 150 2/3 innings for the Richmond Flying Squirrels in the Double-A Eastern League.
Spanning his professional career, Kickham has gone 19-24 with a 3.70 ERA, 297 strikeouts and 136 walks over parts of four seasons.
Shortly after learning the news on Sunday, Kickham posted to his Twitter account, “Just want to thank everyone for the support. San Francisco truly has the best fans in baseball, excited for Tuesday!”
Upon learning the news, Lallemand said he wasted no time in booking a flight to Oakland Sunday night. He’ll be flying to Oakland from Kansas City this morning, where he’ll join Mike’s twin brother Dan, who also pitched for the Roughriders and MSU before briefly playing professionally in the Detroit Tigers’ system, Kevin and Dana in the stands at O.co Coliseum to witness Mike’s debut.
When Kickham fires his first pitch at roughly 9:05 p.m. central time, he’ll become the first big leaguer to have played under Lallemand’s watch.
The skipper said he’s not about to miss the experience.
“Personally, it will be kind of surreal,” Lallemand said. “Just to see a guy out there that I kind of watched grow up and develop a bit as a freshman, it will be a neat experience. I just wanted to be there to see him and support him, but also to see that environment. It’s going to be a pretty neat deal.”
Lallemand says he’ll stay an extra day to watch the Giants’ Tim Lincecum pitch in San Francisco on Wednesday, and hopes to spend some time with Kickham before returning home Thursday. Righty Jarrod Parker will counter Kickham for the A’s.
“It’s kind of another progression for our program,” Lallemand said. “It’s just really neat to see. Seeing all of the guys that have come through and one guy breaks the mold — it’s really unbelievable, and hopefully he’s the (newest) in a long line of guys here that will have the opportunity to be in the big leagues.”
Lallemand deadpanned, “I’m not real crazy about flying to Oakland, but I’m going to spend an extra day out there. Tickets were cheaper to fly back on Thursday anyway.”