White Sox honor Kevin Hickey before game

CHICAGO -- Chicago White Sox bullpen catcher Mark Salas can’t help but think of his late friend and former White Sox player and pregame instructor Kevin Hickey every time the team plays.

Prior to every White Sox’s game, it’s Salas who grabs Hickey’s No. 99 jersey from the team’s clubhouse and hangs it in the dugout.

“Wherever we go, we bring his jersey,” said Salas, who played golf with Hickey. “(We do it) just to keep him around. That’s where Hick would be. He’d be in the dugout screaming, ‘You’re better than that guy is.’”

The White Sox honored Hickey’s memory on Monday by naming their batting cages after him and having a pregame ceremony that included a 16-inch softball hitting exhibition, a tribute video and a presentation of gifts to his family.

Hickey, a Chicago South Side native, never played high school baseball. He starred at 16-inch softball and helped his team to the 1976 World 16-inch Championship and played baseball for the Markham Cardinals, a semipro team. He was invited to a White Sox’s summer tryout and was offered a minor-league contract.

Hickey pitched from the White Sox from 1981-83 and rejoined the team in 2004 as an instructor and batting practice pitcher.

Hickey was found unconscious in his Arlington, Texas hotel room on April 5 and died on May 16 at the age of 56.

Before Monday’s game, the White Sox spoke about what Hickey had meant to them.

“He was a fun guy to be around, always joking, fun, just kept things light,” White Sox pitcher Gavin Floyd said. “Always good to hear his voice, especially in the dugout. He did everything he could to help this team. He was a good person. We all miss him. It’s great we can give tribute to him today.”

White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said, “Ask anyone in our clubhouse, every person here appreciated what Kevin did to help the White Sox win baseball games. No one wanted to win more, no one was more optimistic, no one cared more and no one took more pride in his job. He made all of us better.”

White Sox manager Robin Ventura thought Hickey’s passing put everything in perspective.

“This is our job, this is what we do,” Ventura said. “It’s important. Everybody realizes that. We get paid a lot of money to do this. It’s important for a lot of reasons. By no means is it the end of the world. Stuff that happens with Kevin Hickey at the beginning of the year, I think really levels that out for people the importance of life, being happy and all those things.

“You’re used to hearing him. That’s one thing. Even now it’s been most of the season, there’s still parts you miss. You’re used to hearing, seeing him around, things during batting practice really where you’d see him, just his energy, kind of his zest for life.”