Maple Heights High School alum and current Lake County Captains hitting coach Jim Rickon / Photo courtesy Ken Carr - Lake County Captains
After being a part of the Cleveland Indians farm system since finishing his standout collegiate baseball career at Cleveland State in '99, the lifelong Tribe fan had received his first call up to the big leagues and was a member of the hometown Major League club.
"Hard to describe that feeling even though it was only to catch in the bullpen," Rickon said, reflecting back.
That's right. Rickon's first and only appearance in the majors came as an extra catcher in the bullpen and came after he concluded his playing career in 2001. Prior to getting the Major-League assignment, the catching prospect was serving as a player-coach with the short-season Class A Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
While the job came with no recognition or fanfare, Rickon said he was honored to do it and lists the responsibility as one of his professional highlights.
After his short, but memorable stint with the Tribe, Rickon resumed his role as a hitting coach with the Scrappers and got an early start on his coaching career.
"I was fortunate to have so many people trust me as an instructor so early in my professional career," he said.
That trust the Indians brass showed in the local kid trying to find a way to make it in pro ball has evolved into a long-term relationship, a rarity in the transient world of minor league sports.
Counting Rickon's three-year playing career, 2011 marks the 13th consecutive campaign he's been a part of the Indians organization.
"Growing up being an Indians fan and now having a part in how we do as an organization is as good as it gets," Rickon said. "The people in this organization are first class and have had a lot of impact on me as a person on and off the field."
This season, the veteran coach is serving his third stint as the hitting coach for the Class A Lake County Captains.
Rickon's coaching accomplishments are headlined by the two championships he won as a member of the 2004 Scrappers team that won the New York Penn League and the 2006 Kinston Indians club that captured the Carolina League title.
Rickon recently answered questions about his days as a Maple Heights Mustang and his life in professional baseball for WKYC's HighSchoolSports.net.
WKYC's HighSchoolSports.net: Did your time at Maple Heights High School influence your career path? If so, how?
Lake County Captains hitting coach Jim Rickon: My time at Maple Heights certainly influenced my career. I had an opportunity to be around great teachers and friends like Mr. Dale Walters, my history teacher, and Mr. Ken Kocar, my math teacher and head baseball coach, who encouraged me and helped me to become a better person.
WKYC: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
Rickon: The most important lesson I learned in high school was that if you work hard enough and believe in yourself, anything is achievable.
WKYC: What was the highlight of your high school athletic career?
Rickon: The highlight of my high school career would have to be winning the Greater Cleveland Conference championship in baseball with my friends and teammates in 1994.
WKYC: What are some of your fondest memories from your time as a high school student-athlete?
Rickon: Fondest memories would be the friendships that were enhanced during both the football and baseball seasons.
WKYC: What are some of your fondest memories from your time in professional baseball?
Rickon: My fondest memories - other than winning the championships - would be hitting my first professional home run and being called up in 2002 to the Major League Cleveland Indians to be the catcher in the bullpen.
WKYC: What do remember about that first home run?
Rickon: My first professional home run was during my first year 1999. I was in the New York Penn League playing for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. It was a three-run homer that put us up by a run in, I believe, the seventh inning. It was a 2-0 change-up, but I can't remember who it was off of. Victor Martinez and CC Sabathia were both on that team with me.
WKYC: What is life like as a Minor League Baseball coach?
Rickon: Life as a Minor League coach is pretty neat in the fact that we have a little bit of influence on players' lives and careers. To see these players work and improve to achieve a lifelong dream is pretty amazing.
WKYC What advice would you give to a current high school student-athlete who aspires to a career in baseball, either as a player or coach?
Rickon: I would let all high school student-athletes know two things. That hard work, both in the classroom and on the field, will most definitely lead you to a path in life that you can be proud of. The other thing that I would tell them is that the way you treat people no matter who they are or where they are is what ultimately defines you as a person in this world.
WKYC: What is your proudest personal accomplishment?
Rickon: My proudest personal accomplishment is my family. My wife Adriana is amazing and I couldn't do what I do without her and her support. She is my best friend and the way she handles life with me and our three kids deserves huge recognition. Our three children are Mason [age 4], Avery [age 2] and Campbell [age 4 months].
WKYC: What are some of your hobbies?
Rickon: I love to draw and paint; create things. I designed a grip training device that helps baseball players develop the proper grip on their bat called "The Bat Jack" and for golfer's grips on their clubs called the "Grip Caddy," so I am in the process of running that company as well.