For Nationals' Fick, Life Is Bigger Than Baseball

Along with his leadership and humor, Robert Fick's ability to catch, play first base and the outfield helps his chances of making Washington's roster.
Along with his leadership and humor, Robert Fick's ability to catch, play first base and the outfield helps his chances of making Washington's roster. (Photos By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 25, 2007

VIERA, Fla., Feb. 24 -- Each morning when Robert Fick walks into the clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium -- shades covering his eyes, hat cocked a bit sideways on his head, Starbucks in his hand -- the rest of the Washington Nationals brace for whatever might follow.

"Look at him, right now," reliever Ray King said Saturday. "He looks like he's ready to do something silly."

Such is Fick's reputation, a 32-year-old cross between class clown and traffic cop. His stream of jokes is endless, his wit biting, his boundaries nonexistent and, as King said, "no one's off limits."

But what the Nationals don't know about Fick is that right now, this is all just an escape. Jokes, baseball, hanging with the guys. "This isn't life," Fick said. "This is a game." No one else heard him. Had he said it aloud, his teammates might have taken it as sarcasm. Yet two weeks ago, as he closed the door to his Southern California home and headed east for spring training, Fick had just one inescapable thought.

"I'm probably never going to see my mom again," he said Saturday. "She's probably going to die."

Gloria Fick is 75. She is stricken with lung cancer. She doesn't leave her home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., has a portable oxygen machine, eats little more than grapes and carrot juice, has refused chemotherapy and radiation and surgery and, her son said, believes she is going to beat the disease. A year ago, she was told she had two months to live. She is still here.

"The doctors are amazed," said Robert's older brother, Joe. "She really thinks she can trick the disease."

Each day, when Robert, the youngest of Gloria Fick's eight children, comes to spring training -- a monotonous chore that can seem the height of tedium -- he tries to forget the image of his mother from over the winter, which he spent entirely at her house, and concentrate on baseball. But when he departs the clubhouse, he thinks of her again. They talk every day.

"She tells me she's fine, but I know how she's doing, really," Fick said Saturday. "It's just tough. It's just so tough to see your mom sick like that. I'll sit here and cry about it. I will."

Saturday evening, speaking by phone of her fight and her family, Gloria Fick cried a bit, too.

"We're a very close-knit family," she said. "It's hard for them. I've never been sick before. It's hard for them to see me like this."

That much is apparent from a conversation with Fick. As he spoke Saturday, Fick was perched on a stool in front of his locker, picking at pasta and chicken from the players' buffet. Around him in the background, the clubhouse hummed with its normal buzz about pitching and hitting, hunting and videogames. It is the place where Fick thrives. He has parts of nine major league seasons behind him. He knows how these places work.

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