Aaron Hicks planned to have dinner with his family Monday night. He expected to hear a few jokes at his expense.
“They’re probably going to start laughing at me,” he said.
Hopefully, Hicks laughed along with them, too. That might be the best medicine for a tough first day at the office on Monday.
Hicks’ major league debut didn’t unfold as he envisioned it. He struck out in his first three at-bats and finished 0-for-4 in the Twins’ 4-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Target Field.
“It’s definitely a learning experience,” he said.
Hicks, 23, won the starting center field job in spring training and became the first Twins rookie to make his debut on Opening Day since Joe Mauer in 2004. (Technically, Tsuyoshi Nishioka made his debut in the 2011 opener, but his experience in Japan is an extenuating circumstance.)
In any event, the organization views Hicks as its long-term answer in center field, and he’ll have plenty of highlights along the way. Game 1, he admitted, was kind of a blur. It’s a day he won’t forget, though.
Hicks joined his father and older brother — Joe Sr. and Joe Jr. — at a downtown coffee shop a few blocks from Target Field. The three sat and talked about the day and normal family things. The place bustled with customers, many dressed in Twins apparel.
Aaron got a good night’s sleep and awoke around 8:30 a.m. He acted remarkably calm for such a big occasion.
“He doesn’t really show any nerves,” Joe Sr. said. “He’s just his normal old self.”
On the other hand, Joe Jr. was a nervous wreck. He woke up his dad at 1:30 a.m., 3 a.m. and again at 5 a.m.
“I told my brother don’t worry about being anxious and nervous because I’ve got you covered on that,” he said.
As they finished their conversation and Aaron got up to leave for the ballpark, Joe Jr. gave his brother a hug.
“Do your thing,” he told him.
Hicks finished early batting practice at the indoor cages and stopped at his locker for a quick uniform change before warmups. He looked comfortable, but he’s still learning his way around his new home.
“I’m still learning where the showers are and all the training rooms,” he said. “You’ve got to walk around a little more to find the kitchen or just anything.”
Oh yeah, the kitchen. Hicks ate breakfast at his hotel, presumably unaware of the catering provided to big leaguers.
“We have to break him in day by day,” second baseman Brian Dozier said.
Hicks took a few minutes to reflect on the moment and the fact he would face the best pitcher in baseball, the Tigers’ Justin Verlander, in his debut.
“I don’t think there’s a better way to go in,” he said. “The fact that it’s Opening Day, being in the starting lineup, being the first guy to come up to the plate, it’s really just exciting.”
Torii Hunter became a fan favorite roaming center field for the Twins. Now he plays right field for the Tigers. Hunter and Hicks have shared several conversations in recent years. Hunter offered his insights on life in the big leagues and playing that position and his approach to the game.
Hunter’s advice to Twins fans: Be patient.
“He has all the intangibles,” Hunter said. “Just give him a little time. He’s pretty much a five-tool player. He’s a switch hitter who hits for power. Not just a switch hitter who’s poking the ball. I definitely feel this guy has all the potential in the world to be the center fielder that Twins fans have always been able to watch over the years.”
Hicks stepped into the batter’s box for his first major league at-bat, and it lasted only four pitches. Verlander got him to flail at a 76-miles-per-hour curveball for strike three.
In his second at-bat, Hicks struck out looking on a fastball clocked at 93 mph. His third at-bat also lasted four pitches with the same result: strikeout on another curveball.
“I wasn’t as patient as I usually am,” he said. “I was swinging at pitches I usually wouldn’t.”
Hicks put the ball in play in his fourth at-bat, a groundout to short. He finished with a walk in the eighth inning.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire wasn’t surprised to see his rookie battle nerves. That’s what happens, he said, when you combine Opening Day, a rookie debut and Verlander on the mound.
“There should be anxiety and excitement,” Gardenhire said. “I like the way he handled himself at the end. He kind of relaxed a little bit and he had two really good at-bats.”
Hicks stood at his locker, his disappointment visible. Three strikeouts is not what he expected.
“I was a little nervous out there,” he said. “A little anxious more than anything, trying to get that first hit out of the way. Verlander used it to his advantage.”
Hicks didn’t like his approach at the plate. Too impatient, he said.
His family waited for him. He was ready to have dinner and reflect on his debut. He sounded ready to move on.
“Got to get ready for the second game,” he said.