Called Up

November 2020 View more

By Matt Le Cren

Nicky Lopez will never forget May 14, 2019. That was the date the 2013 Naperville Central graduate made his major league debut for the Kansas City Royals

“It was unbelievable,” Lopez says. “I lived out my dream. No one can take it away from me now.

Lopez, 25, is the first NCHS player to reach the big leagues. He led the Redhawks to a sectional title his senior year under head coach and dean of students Mike Stock, who didn’t foresee him getting this far.

“I never would have predicted it, but now seeing it play out, it should never have surprised me,” Stock says. “He has great athleticism along with the mental toughness to do well in baseball.

“You’ve got to be able to be humbled and not lose your way. When struggles did come, he never made it worse. He always got through it quicker than others, and I think that’s something that resonated with every coach and teammate he had.”

Lopez, who was selected by the Royals in the fifth round of the 2016 amateur draft after his junior season at Creighton, credits the tough competition he faced during high school and travel ball for preparing him for the pros.

“I loved growing up in Naperville,” says Lopez. “Naperville was good to
me. Every team we played against was good. There was always great talent in Illinois and I think that’s what kind of shaped me.”

Lopez became the Royals’ starting second baseman during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He says it was a surreal experience playing in empty ballparks. The Royals played both the Cubs and White Sox in Chicago, but his family, including parents Angela and Bob, weren’t allowed even to say hello to him at the hotel.

“You can’t go out, you can’t be around people, and it kind of plays a mental toll on you,” Lopez says of the COVID-19 restrictions. “The regular fan doesn’t really know what it’s like because as a baseball player there’s a lot of ways to get your mind off the game—whether that’s getting dinner after a game or hanging out with friends, and we can’t really do that.”

Lopez, whose family still lives in Naperville, is training in Arizona during the off-season. The Royals will visit Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field again in 2021, and Lopez is looking forward to it.

“Hopefully, next year everything goes back to normal because I don’t think this is the way baseball should be played,” he says. “We want to be able to play the games with fans.”

Count Coach Stock among Lopez’s many supporters.

“He comes from a great family,” Stock says. “He stays in touch with the people he cares about and I’m lucky that we at Central are still part of that world.”

Photos courtesy Kansas City Royals