The grass at Coral Seymour Memorial Park has yet to brown for the winter. That doesn't matter to new Peninsula Oilers head coach Brian Hickman. He's ready to roll out the balls on the 2008 season right now.
"I wish I was coming tomorrow," Hickman said Monday evening via cell phone from Oklahoma. "I'm telling you now, we've got a good club of not only good players, but good kids as well.
"The city of Kenai, and the peninsula, will be very proud of the kids we are bringing up this summer."
The Oilers recently announced that Hickman will be the 22nd manager for the Alaska Baseball League club, which began play in 1974. Hickman takes over for Daniel Boyle, who was the head coach on an interim basis last season when Aric Thomas had to leave the team at the beginning of the season for personal reasons.
Shawn Maltby, the general manager for the Oilers, said both Boyle and former Kenai Central High School standout Dennis Machado, last year's pitching coach, have been offered contracts to return. The return of both assistants is not certain, yet, because Maltby has yet to receive the signed contracts.
Hickman is already very familiar with the Oilers organization. He served as an assistant coach in 2004 under Thomas and in 2006 under Thad Johnson. In 2004, Hickman worked with the hitters, catchers and coached third base. In 2006, when the Oilers won the Alaska Baseball League title, Hickman ran the Oilers offense and coached third base.
"I love Kenai, absolutely love Kenai," Hickman said. "The Oilers organization has been very good to me. To be honest, the main reason I'm coming is Shawn Maltby and I are close friends.
"He's a tremendous general manager. In 2006, he treated the staff very well. I'm looking forward to going back to work for Shawn."
According to Hickman, Maltby had talked to him about becoming the head coach for the 2006 season. Hickman got an assistant coaching job at Oral Roberts University and had to stay in Oklahoma for the summer. This summer, he is free to go to Alaska.
Hickman and Maltby already have 90 to 95 percent of the 2008 Oilers constructed. Hickman said the roster was constructed with a simple philosophy get the best players in the country.
"I guess if there's a philosophy, so to speak, it's to be dominant on the mound," Hickman said. "We're trying to get as many pitchers on the mound as possible that are not just going to have success, but that will hopefully dominate."
After winning the ABL title in 2006, the Oilers slipped to fourth place in 2007 with a 17-18 league record. Hickman's plans go beyond restoring the Oilers to the top of the ABL. He would like to add to the Oilers collection of three National Baseball Congress World Series titles, which came in 1977, 1993 and 1994.
The Oilers last appearance in the title game came in 1999, when head coach Gary Adcock came up just short of his stated goal of getting former Oilers general manager Mike Baxter an NBC title.
"To be honest, of course (an ABL title) is my goal, but I have bigger goals," Hickman said. "It's time the peninsula and Kenai won another NBC national championship. We obviously need to take care of business in Alaska first. After that, I don't want to go to the NBC and finish in 20th place."
Hickman said the reputation of the Oilers organization has helped in assembling this year's squad.
"The housing situation has been great, and we by far have the best facilities in the entire Alaska Baseball League," Hickman said. "The people are really friendly toward the players. It's a great atmosphere and a great community. I wouldn't want to be in Alaska unless it was in Kenai."
Before becoming an assistant at Oral Roberts, Hickman spent two seasons as an assistant at Eastern Oklahoma State College under Thomas. Hickman spent the 2004 season as a volunteer assistant at the University of Oklahoma. Following his college baseball career, Hickman was signed as a free agent by the Chicago White Sox and spent three years in the minors.
Hickman will come to Kenai with his wife, Susanne, and their first child, Lilah, who was born in May 2007.
Other Oiles notes: Baseball America recently rated the top 10 prospects from the 2007 Alaska Baseball League. Three Oilers made the list: Nick Buss at No. 1, Matt Thomson at No. 2 and Mario Hollands at No. 5.
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