“I don’t think I’ve changed,” Hultzen said. “I’d like to think I haven’t changed.”
Two days later, everything changed. Warming up for a scheduled start, Hultzen felt stiffness in his throwing shoulder. He recognized the pain immediately, an inflammation of the strained rotator cuff that landed him on the disabled list earlier this season. The Mariners scratched that start and shut him down for at least 10 days. They’re exploring changes to his mechanics and routine, the very foundation of Hultzen’s unflappable consistency. Everyone considers it a minor setback but nothing more. At least, that’s the hope.
“It happens again, and that kind of shows you how things can be taken away from you like that, at the drop of a hat,” Hultzen later said by phone. “I still believe that, if this is the worst thing that happens to me, not only in my life and in my baseball career, that’s going to be fine.”
Thousands of miles away, in the heartlands of Tennessee, two of Hultzen’s classmates grapple with similar verities, except with futures far less guaranteed.
Together at a crossroads
Steven Proscia grew up in Suffern, N.Y., just across the New Jersey border, raised by a traditional Italian family. He was a two-sport star at Don Bosco Prep, a private high school with an annual tuition higher than most in-state universities. His father built movie sets in New York City.
So imagine Proscia’s surprise when, entering his freshman year in Charlottesville, he learned the surname of his future roommate, from a rural town called Goochland, Va.
“It’s going to be a guy named John Hicks?!”
Five years later, little has changed. Proscia is still the muscular corner infielder who holds New York Giants season tickets and wears a silver chain with his jersey number around his neck. The catcher Hicks, despite a faded accent that still affords the occasional y’all, loves country music, hunting deer and slopping gravy onto his biscuits. And it’s here, in the bucolic town of Jackson, Tenn., where the latest episode of the Hicks and Proscia Show sets its scene.
Teammates now with the Class AA Generals, Hicks and Proscia have been inseparable ever since their recruiting trip to Virginia, when their football bye weeks happened to fall on the same weekend. They roomed together all three of their years in Charlottesville, were both drafted by the Mariners in 2011, lived together at Class A High Desert last season and at spring training this year, and even slept in the same bedroom during their one summer at the Cape Cod League.