As of just two months ago, ‘Mike Nikorak’ is a name commonly heard and discussed amongst college recruiting coordinators and professional scouts after his 97 mph fastball caught the radar guns and the attention of the plethora of scouts in attendance for June’s Perfect Game National Showcase. Since the event, word of Nikorak and his 97 mph fastball spread like a wildfire and everybody wants to see more of the Pennsylvania talent.
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound right-hander has taken the amateur baseball scene by storm during his 2014 summer circuit and has been asked to display his abilities on many of amateur baseball’s biggest stages, most notably, the Perfect Game All-American Classic held at Petco Park in San Diego, Calif. on August 10th.
Nikorak will be one of 27 players representing the East in the contest and one of just three who will represent Pennsylvania. All 54 participants will be eligible for the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. History says those who have been selected to participate in the prestigious Classic have enjoyed unparalleled success at the next level. Since the game’s inception in 2003, 84 players have made it to the Major Leagues, including Justin Upton, Jose Fernandez, Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Harvey, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Andrew McCutchen, Homer Bailey, and Buster Posey.
The PG All-American Classic has seen 149 of its alumni selected in the first round of the MLB Draft, including 17 players from last year’s Classic.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Nikorak. “Being able to represent Pennsylvania with John Aiello and Willie Burger and being able to showcase myself in front of 53 other players that are at the highest level in high school right now is more than I could ever ask for, so I’m gonna go out there for my one inning and give it all I’ve got.”
Nikorak’s high school baseball coach, Phil Stokes, is having a surreal experience through what Nikorak has gone through this summer, as well, and is excited to have such an excellent ballplayer represent Stroudsburg High School on the national level, something the school has never had the privilege of.
“Stroudsburg High School has never had this type of attention and we don’t really understand what it’s gonna be like, but at the same time you have to enjoy what’s going on,” said Stokes. “Our baseball program has been good over the past several years, but nothing like this. This is gonna be front page all of the time, so it’s really cool.”
Not only will scouts and college recruiting coordinators have their chance at seeing Nikorak up against the very best competition high school baseball has to offer, but baseball fans across the country will have their opportunity for a look at the young fireballer as the game will be nationally televised on MLB Network.
“I think being able to throw in front of the whole country on MLB Network will definitely be a huge experience,” Nikorak said. “I’ve just gotta stay within myself and not try to do too much and just do exactly what I’ve been doing all summer.”
Nikorak is eager to represent the northeast region of the country, which can boast claim to fast-rising MLB superstar Mike Trout, but is still not as notable an area for baseball prospects as it is for just about every other major sport. In fact, he is one of only three players representing eastern states north of South Carolina, besides fellow right-handed pitcher Ashe Russell of Indianapolis, Ind. A vast majority of players representing the East squad come from Florida (12) or Georgia (7), while most of the participants for the West hail from Texas (11) or California (9).
“Baseball is definitely different in the northeast,” said Nikorak. “Half of our games are played in football weather, compared to playing year-round down in Florida and parts of California, so I just think it’s that much more of an incentive to work harder. I think northern states have it a little bit harder than the southern states, so being able to represent Pennsylvania is a huge honor to be able to show everybody that we’re just as good as the guys down south.”
Stokes is very excited and proud of the well-deserved attention Nikorak is receiving and couldn’t be happier to have such a valuable asset to the high school team representing the small Stroudsburg, Pa. town with a population just a touch about 5,000 people.
“He’s been such a good kid for us,” Stokes said. “The last two years he’s been the Mountain Valley Conference Player of the Year. He really should’ve been undefeated for us last year. He won the district semifinal, which was the breakthrough for us to get to the championship. He’s the captain for us this year.”
Stokes always knew he had a special talent in Nikorak, who finished his junior season with a 4-3 record and a 1.01 earned run average (ERA) through 47.2 innings of work, but it would’ve been tough to envision the national attention his star pitcher has grabbed.
“How many times is this gonna happen in somebody’s coaching career that you have some who receives as much attention as Mike, and rightfully so,” said Stokes. “Mike’s truly well-grounded. He doesn’t have a big head. He doesn’t showboat. He’s a real treat. You should see him run the bases when he hits a triple. I’ve never seen a kid run for a triple like he does, and that just goes to show the athletic ability that he has.”
Nikorak’s hard work has paid huge dividends this summer, beginning with the Perfect Game National Showcase held two months ago at jetBlue Park, Spring training home of the Boston Red Sox. It was at that event where he hit 97 mph for the first time and saw his draft stock soar, as he jumped from No. 129 to No. 3 in Perfect Game’s high school class of 2015 national rankings, throwing him into first-round discussion for the next MLB Draft.
“I think we’ve had some high-end players, but we’ve never had this high-end,” Stokes said. “I told people around here that he’s not that old and he’s still developing. He’s just scratching the surface of what he can be. There’s no ceiling on where he’s gonna go or what he’s gonna do. That’s the way it’s been from when he was throwing in our gym and we’d get the radar gun out, it seemed like he was always improving in terms of velocity.”
The right-hander didn’t just sit back and let things happen, though. Stokes will be the first to tell you Nikorak has worked hard to earn his time in the spotlight.
“We do morning workouts in the winter starting at 5:30 a.m. and he always shows up early ready to go,” said Stokes. “He’s always in a great mood, and all that was before he got all this attention, so that hasn’t changed.”
“A lot of work in the offseason pretty much led me to the National and being able to capitalize and showcase all my skills in front of all the scouts at National was a perfect way to start off the summer,” Nikorak said. “It was awesome. I wasn’t really a huge showcase or tournament player last year. I’ve played in a few tournaments, but not as much as I have been this year, so to open up the summer season down at the National around all those great players was pretty cool. Everybody has a big impact down at that showcase, so I’m just glad I had a good outing there.”
The Stroudsburg, Pa. native also had the rare experience of signing his own baseball cards at the National Showcase, as he will do in San Diego during the All-American Classic festivities.
“My brother played in the Chicago White Sox minor league system and is now playing Independent, so he has a few baseball cards of his own and it’s cool being able to follow in his footsteps and being able to kind of do the same thing he was doing,” said Nikorak. “It’s cool to put our baseball cards next to each other. It’s kind of surreal.”
Nikorak’s older brother, Steven, was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 32nd round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of Temple University.
“He’s definitely a reason why I got into baseball, but he’s probably even more of a reason why I stayed into it,” Nikorak said of his older brother. “He’s had a huge impact on my baseball career, whether it was me being 10-years-old and playing tennis ball baseball out in the street or going out and taking batting practice or working out in the offseason. He’s been there for me every step of the way. He’s a huge role model. He does everything exactly how it needs to be done. He doesn’t flaunt himself. He’s the ideal baseball player, so I try and replicate my game after him.”
Nikorak will highlight his busy star-studded summer when he takes the bump in the Major League stadium of Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres; one step closer to fulfilling a big-league dream.
“I couldn’t be more happy for a kid that’s worked hard for this,” said Stokes. “You could always see that he was gonna be a good player from an early age and he’s worked hard and he’s got a lot of good people around him to help him with this as well.”
Stokes, amongst many other Stroudsburg, Pa. residents, will tune in to MLB Network to watch one of their own represent the borough on a national stage, nearly 3,000 miles away from home. That will be a special moment, sure to make front page headlines.