Focused is the best word to describe Lansing Lugnuts right-handed pitcher Arik Sikula. Whether it was trying to get a college scholarship in high school or a chance to play professional baseball, Sikula has remained focused on his path.
Growing up in West Virginia, Sikula excelled in baseball at South Charleston High School where he won a state championship in 2006 and was named West Virginia player of the year in 2007 at Hurricane High School. While in high school, Sikula was focused on playing Division 1 baseball, and that dream became a reality when nearby Marshall University offered him a baseball scholarship for his success on the diamond as well as in the classroom.
Sikula spent four years at Marshall where he spent time as a closer, long reliever, and a starter on the Thundering Herd baseball team.
“Marshall was great. I went to two different high schools close to Marshall so I knew a lot of people close to the university,” he said. “At Marshall I was able to go home do laundry and have a home cooked meal whenever I wanted it was nice.”
The Blue Jays drafted Sikula in the 36th round of the 2011 MLB draft, and it was an opportunity Sikula wanted to take full advantage of.
“I was excited when I was drafted by Toronto,” Sikula said. “I have a friend whose Dad was a manager for the Blue Jays so it was very exciting to be drafted by his Dad’s team and I was very enthusiastic to get to play professional baseball.”
Beginning his professional career close to home in 2011 with the Bluefield Blue Jays, Sikula went 1-1 with a 2.97 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings of work.
“Bluefield was a good stepping stone into professional baseball. It’s an older league with less travel which gets you ready for the rest of the leagues,” he said. “I thought I was going to get away from West Virginia after graduating from college and I think I was ready for it, but I went to mini-camp and got sent back. It was nice to see my parents and for them to see me play pro ball.”
Making the trip to Vancouver in 2012, Sikula went 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA with 31 strikeouts, 10 saves, and an opponent batting average of only .189 in 36 2/3 innings of work.
“Vancouver is one of the most diverse, beautiful and best cities I have ever been too I loved my experience there,” he said. “I would like to go back there on a vacation sometime. It’s one of those cities I might have never got a chance to see if I wasn’t playing professional baseball and I was blessed to get to go there.”
Sikula won his first professional championship in Vancouver and he was on the mound for the final out of the game.
“Being on the mound for the final out was amazing. The management there does a great job and the fan support is unbelievable you really feel important there,” he said. “The fan support makes you feel more confident. There are a lot of great things to be said about how they run things there.”
Currently in Lansing, Sikula is 4-0 with a 1.82 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 49 1/3 innings. Lugnuts manager John Tamargo Jr. has enjoyed having Sikula closing games put at the back end of his bullpen, as the right-hander has managed 17 saves and limited opposing hitters to a .190 batting average.
“I hope I can stay healthy all year in Lansing. I have never thrown for 50 to 60 games in a season,” he said. “I like to go out there and throw and workout a lot and everybody is telling me you can’t do that in a 140-game season so I’m interested in seeing how my body holds up.
“I’m going to be very cautious with my workload and nutrition .”
Enjoying his first season in Lansing, Sikula was quick to mention that it didn’t take long for the city to make an impression on him.
“I like Lansing as a city and East Lansing is a lot of fun. I’m just a couple years out of college so I still love the college scene,” he said. “I went to a smaller college so the area is a lot of fun with a big school like Michigan State. Cooley Stadium and downtown Lansing is just beautiful. I like it here a lot.”
Another aspect Sikula likes about his journey in the Blue Jays system is having fellow reliever Ian Kadish at each level he has been at, as both were college teammates and roommates at Marshall.
“It’s comforting to get into professional baseball with somebody you already know. It made the transition a lot easier than it is for most guys,” he said. “The transition can be awkward, but when you have a friend with you from the start it’s an easy one. It makes you comfortable and able to focus on work right away.”
Lugnuts pitching coach Vince Horsman has appreciated the work Sikula puts in every day.
“Arik is playing well for us,” Horsman said. “His fastball doesn’t always register high on the radar gun, but it plays up for us because It’s kind of sneaky and he has a very good breaking ball as well.”
“He’s a key piece of our bullpen.”
Having had Horsman as his pitching coach this season for the first time in his career, Sikula has really valued the former major leaguer’s input and experience, but his personality as well.
“It’s fun to listen to him talk. When you listen to a guy that pitched in the big leagues you just want to learn,” Sikula said. “We get caught up with him as our pitching coach like your father sometimes you forget how much of a role model he is.
“It’s nice to have a guy like that in our locker room.