The first word you think of when you hear Brewer Hicklen speak or see him in action? Leadership. Hicklen has been with the Kansas City Royals since 2017 after they drafted him in the 7th round of the MLB Draft out of the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB). He was always known as an elite athlete as he played both baseball and football during his time at UAB, but on top of that, he was known more as the guy you want in the locker room or clubhouse as he possesses a unique ability to lead. Alex mentioned to me that he’s won a championship in the minor leagues every year he has been with the Royals: 2018 in Lexington, 2019 in Wilmington, and most recently in 2021 with Northwest Arkansas. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Hicklen’s journey through professional baseball hasn’t always been easy. There have been many ups and downs and obstacles to overcome on his journey to the big leagues. I was fortunate enough to interview him in one of my other roles with Major League University where he shared his story about his accomplishments and the struggles that came with the game. He was open about so many things, including his battles within the game, how he found light in some of his darkest times, and how important shifting his perspective was to help bring him back to a place of joy.
Brewer Hicklen had himself a year in 2018. He wound up slashing .307/.378/.552 with 18 home runs, 68 RBIs, 22 doubles, and 35 stolen bases with the Lexington Legends. Everything was on the rise for him. Being named an Organizational All-Star by Minor League Baseball, Hicklen found himself rising to one of the top prospects in the Royals organization. MLB Pipeline even had him ranked as the #21 prospect in the entire organization.
2019 wasn’t much different. He picked up where he left off in 2018 and was again named an Organization All-Star. He even had a season good enough to win a Player of the Year award at High-A. That led to being named to the Arizona Fall League where some of the league’s best prospects go to compete in the offseason. Hicklen’s path to the big leagues was becoming more evident. His successes had many believing he could find his way to the show in the next couple of years.
Struggles in 2021
Unfortunately, like many other prospects, the pandemic came rolling in and took away the 2020 season for Hicklen. But even with the 2020 season shut down due to COVID-19, Hicklen was ready coming into 2021. “I put in 18 months of hard work and preparation”, he said. “I was confident in the work I had done in Spring Training. I was ready to roll to the point I felt I was on my way to Major League Baseball.” Then the struggles started to kick in. “I got to the season, and it started to go downhill quickly,” he said. “It was the first time in my life I haven’t had success, but everybody around me had success.”
Baseball is a game full of failures. Sometimes they can be daunting, and it just feels like you are in this endless cycle of trying to get yourself out of a rut. We all can relate as many go through the same cycles even though we aren’t athletes. We start to feel like everything is stacked against us, and there isn’t a way out. But what Hicklen did during these times was make sure that he never once let his struggles impact the type of teammate he was to those having success around him. He kept a positive attitude and lived by a question he asks even when he coaches, “What kind of teammate are you when you fail?” It shows you the kind of leader he is.
Even though Hicklen was trying to stay positive on the outside, the feelings of everything coming down on him still existed. “It was to the point I bottled up all of my emotions internally”, Hicklen said, “and I didn’t share that with anybody because I didn’t want them to see how much I was struggling.” This is a common theme for most of us. We tend to hide even the darkest times from others because we don’t want them to know what we are going through.
Finding Light in the Darkness
Holding all of the feelings back led him to where he just broke down. “It came to a breaking point in July. I remember it like it was yesterday, and I still get the chills thinking about it”, he said. “I went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, got to the locker room, and just asked myself, ‘What am I doing?'” But the breaking point led him to some light. He realized he needed to talk to somebody and reached out to an old-time coach. He could break down and share all the emotions he was bottling up. “I just remember that freeing feeling of letting it go and sharing it with somebody,” he said.
Hicklen was able to find a light in the community around him. He realized that we aren’t created to do these things alone. That opportunity to release everything wearing down on him gave him the feeling of being relaxed—the chance to go out there and play within his own game. “No joke, the next day I went three for four with two home runs, game-winning RBI. It is just crazy,” he said. What hit home for me as I was talking with Hicklen was the new perspective he got from all of this. “At the end of the day, the people that love ya still love ya regardless of how you do. That is the perspective I took, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.”
The opportunity to be open led Hicklen to shift his perspective and led to unbelievable success. He turned it on in July, where he slashed .329/.446/.697 with seven home runs, 16 RBI, and 16 stolen bases! I mean… have a month. With that success, he also realized that every moment and performance doesn’t define who you are. “Players, myself included, tend to focus on only what’s happening at the moment. But it is important to realize there is always something on the other side,” Hicklen said. “Every moment of failure prepares you for success in the future. Every piece of success prepares you for an opportunity to mentor and teach someone in the face of adversity.”
These are all valuable lessons that all of us can learn from. Our successes and failures don’t define all of who we are. They are pieces of what makes us who we are. Remember Hicklen’s advice from earlier. “It’s easy to look at your success and only focus on what’s going right in your career”, he said. “On the flip side, during failure, it is easy to look at failure and put a magnifying glass on all that is going wrong.” In those moments of success and failure, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
You know Brewer Hicklen will be a leader in the clubhouse at every stage of his career. He is a guy that is easy to route for, and you want to keep pulling for him as his career progresses. Even whenever his post-baseball career begins, he will be a leader in his community and mentor and mold the minds of future generations. His experiences don’t define. They make him the high character human he is today.
John 1:5: “For light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never overcome it.”
Photo Credits: Ryan Griffith (@ryanrgriffith)