MLK senior living his grandfather's baseball dream

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Clinton Hickson rounds second base in Martin Luther King's victory over Freire.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Clinton Hickson rounds second base in Martin Luther King's victory over Freire.
Posted: April 03, 2014

CLINTON HICKSON had no idea where the car was headed; nor did he realize the direction the journey would ultimately guide his life.

The Martin Luther King High senior was 10 back then, sitting shotgun in his grandfather's car, when they pulled up to the Mount Airy Playground on Germantown and Sedgwick.

Linwood Vaughters, Hickson's grandfather, emerged from the car, baseball glove in hand and a simple explanation on his lips.

"My granddad just drove me up and was, like,'You have practice today,' Hickson recalled yesterday on the field behind Simons Community Recreation Center. "And I was like,'what?' "

Aside from Wiffle ball in the front yard, Hickson had never played organized baseball, but said he took to the game naturally. And from then on, he was hooked.

Unfortunately, Vaughters, who died from cancer less than 2 years later, never saw Hickson play high school baseball. His grandmother, Shirley Hall, died of cancer in June 2012.

And although Hickson knew his grandfather was a big baseball fan, he never asked why he signed him up for the Mount Airy Giants that day.

"I don't think I ever really had a chance," Hickson said. "I just accepted I was playing. If I was doing bad, I would have asked, 'Why'd you bring me to this?' But it just came to me, so I was, like, 'OK, thank you!' "

The 5-11, 140-pound righthander started on the mound in the Cougars' 18-3, three-inning, mercy-rule onslaught of the host Freire Dragons, but his bat also helped.

With the bases chock-full of Cougars, Hickson wrapped a bases-clearing triple into the right-centerfield gap, giving MLK (3-0) a 15-1 advantage. The knock was, by far, the hardest hit ball to that point, as the Dragons committed several errors to help the Cougars along.

Junior third baseman Demetrius Smith followed Hickson with his own triple near the gap in right-center. Ultimately, the Cougars' 17-run second inning, assisted by seven free passes from Freire pitchers, was more than enough. Freire also committed eight errors in the game.

Junior first baseman Erik Bradley also smacked a double for the Cougars, who netted only six hits.

After hitting an RBI single off Hickson in the first, Freire freshman Kharee Jackson singled in another in the third. Junior Ikeis Bradley later doubled home Jackson.

As for Hickson, who lives in Chestnut Hill (off Stenton and Gravers), he plays on for the grandparents who helped foster his love of baseball, the only game he's ever loved.

"Yeah, so I'm kind of playing for them," he said. "They wouldn't want to see me just stop and be sad, so I just take every game like they're here sitting over there in the stands. I'm playing for them. That hit was for them."

His plan is to attend Alabama A&M next year and try out of the baseball team. Academically, Hickson is interested in sports management and was heavily involved in extracurricular activities before certain programs were cut. He plans to visit the school in a few weeks and hopes to speak with the coaching staff.

"It's different," he said of why he loves baseball. "There aren't really a lot of African-Americans in the sport, and I was turned on to it at a young age, so it was one of the first sports I knew. As I came up, I saw how much skill it takes, and that if you put in the work, you can get a lot out. That's what drives me."

Hickson was selected second-team All-Public League last season and said he has started varsity since his freshman year at now-closed Germantown High. He has played every infield spot but first base, and also spent time in centerfield. He's a speedster with a good arm and a smooth stroke.

And if he can earn his way onto a college baseball team, well, he knows what grandparents would say.

"They'd say, 'I knew it!' " he said with a smile. "They always believed in me. They never doubted anything I could do. And anything baseball-related, they were there to help me and so was everyone in my family, actually."

Later, he added: "Baseball has made me a better leader. It's given me motivation just to do better as a person and in the community."

On Twitter: @AceCarterDN

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