Aaron Hicks looked different when he arrived in Baltimore.
The Orioles saw plenty of Hicks for the eight years he played for the New York Yankees, but after he signed with Baltimore last week, he showed up to his new clubhouse with a new look.
No longer having to abide by the Yankees’ strict no facial hair policy, Hicks has let his stubble grow out into a trimmed beard. But the change in appearance isn’t the only thing different with the veteran outfielder.
The new-look Hicks is off to a torrid start in Baltimore, hitting .368 with a 1.087 OPS in his first six games as the fill-in for the injured Cedric Mullins.
“If I keep hitting, I guess I gotta keep it,” Hicks said with a laugh.
His facial hair isn’t the only thing that’s more relaxed. Hicks was released by the Yankees on May 26 after persistent struggles that date to 2021, but now he feels like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders.
“I can just go play,” Hicks said. “I’ve played pretty much every game since I’ve been here. I felt kind of this year I was put in a role [in New York]. It’s tough when you’re playing in a role, you never really know when you’re gonna play. It’s hard to get into a rhythm, and I’m more of a rhythm hitter.”
He said the new beard is his “offseason look,” but once the Yankees let him go and swallowed the final $27 million of his $70 million contract, he spent the 10 days away from the game growing it out, knowing wherever he landed wouldn’t have the same rules as New York. The Yankees haven’t allowed players to sport facial hair (except mustaches) since former owner George Steinbrenner instituted the policy in 1973.
“I’ve definitely enjoyed it, not having to shave all the time, especially me being bald. It’s definitely a lot easier,” said Hicks, who added that he was OK with the longstanding tradition in New York. “It allows me to be myself and show off my personality.”
When the Orioles brought in the switch-hitter after Mullins was placed on the injured list with a right groin strain, it wasn’t expected that the 33-year-old would replace all of the production that Mullins, an All-Star in 2021 and Gold Glove finalist in 2022, provides. Hicks hit .188 with a .524 OPS with the Yankees this season after posting back-to-back subpar offensive seasons. He was last an above-average hitter in 2020.
So far, though, he mostly has replaced Mullins, reaching base in all six of his games as an Oriole, going 7-for-19 with three walks, hitting his first home run Tuesday and making a solid catch Saturday in San Francisco.
Manager Brandon Hyde said Hicks has been a “boost” to an Orioles lineup that has struggled recently, scoring three or fewer runs in nine of its past 12 games and averaging 3.6 runs in that timeframe.
“Even though the numbers weren’t good [in New York], he has the ability to take a walk and the ability to lay off pitches outside the strike zone,” Hyde said. “He’s done that so far with us. He’s also doing some damage on balls in the strike zone. He’s played a really nice center field.
“He’s added a lot to our lineup since he’s been here.”
Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said shortly after he signed Hicks that he was hopeful the veteran outfielder had more left in the tank after hitting .214 in his past three seasons with the American League East rival.
“You may not get a great outcome on everything, but we see stuff with Aaron Hicks that we like and it feels like a good fit for us,” Elias said. “I hope this is shot in the arm for him, and I hope that he helps us out and helps us win some games.”
Being on a new team, Hicks said, has been an adjustment. The Orioles are just the third organization he’s played for, coming up through the Twins system as a first-round pick and playing his first three seasons in Minnesota before spending eight in New York. One aspect that’s made the transition smooth is the familiarity. Aside from Minnesota’s Target Field and New York’s Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards is the stadium Hicks has played in the most in his career.
“I’ve played against them for so long,” Hicks said. “They’ve seen me when I was good, and they’ve seen me when I was bad. They already had a pretty good idea of the kind of hitter I was when I got here.”
Hicks isn’t the only Oriole to make the transition this season from the Big Apple to the Charm City, as catcher James McCann played for the New York Mets the previous two seasons. McCann, a 10-year veteran, said playing under the brightest of lights in New York can be a challenge.
“You walk in a clubhouse of a New York team, there’s triple the amount of media than other places,” McCann said. “There’s more coverage, there’s more outlets, there’s more everything. But, also, I don’t care where you’re playing, you talk to any professional athlete, and they’re gonna have greater expectations of themselves than any fan or media member is gonna have. I think the difference is that everything is just amplified [in New York] just because of the amount of coverage there is compared to other cities.”
Hicks said he still “loves New York,” calling the Yankees a “top-notch” organization. In his prime from 2017 to 2020, Hicks was a valuable player, posting a .819 OPS with 60 home runs. But, when times got tough as they often did for Hicks the past three seasons, the negative attention increased.
“There’s a ton of pressure there,” Hicks said. “There’s no running away from it.”
The only running Hicks has been doing with the Orioles is around the bases and in center field. Hyde said shortly after the signing that he hoped a new home would bring back the old Hicks. So far, it has.
“I think he’s really enjoying it. Sometimes, maybe a change of scenery, I’m hoping that’s what it is,” Hyde said. “He’s playing with a ton of life, a ton of energy. You see him smile in the clubhouse, he’s enjoying being out here, he’s enjoying being in the lineup every day. That’s something that hasn’t happened for him in a couple years. Coming to the ballpark knowing he’s gonna play probably frees him up a little bit.
“So far, he’s making the most of this opportunity.”