Aaron Nieckula is a people person.
He is also the new manager of the Joliet Slammers.
The hire was officially announced on Dec. 8 and naturally, Nieckula is very happy to be a part of the organization that has captured a pair of Frontier League championships, including in 2018.
“I’d like to thank the entire Slammers leadership team for this opportunity,” Nieckula said in a press release. “I am eager to begin building, in collaboration with (the front office), a culture and standard of excellence that is heavily focused on player development while maintaining a championship mindset. I have always admired the Slammers organization and am now affiliated with one of the premier MLB Partner League teams in the country.”
The MLB partnership doesn’t mean the Slammers are affiliated with any Major League Baseball team. But it does mean that MLB will be able to work in conjunction with the Frontier League to look more closely at players and perhaps provide some perks along the way.
Nieckula brings a wealth of experience after a 17-year coaching career with the Oakland Athletics, where he began in 2004 as the hitting coach of the Kane County Cougars.
By 2006 he moved up to become manager of the Cougars, before later managing the Burlington Bees, Stockton Ports, Midland Rockhounds, and Vermont Lake Monsters – all in the A’s farm system. Since 2015, in addition to his managerial assignments, he also served as the A’s Arizona Field Coordinator, where he mentored coaches and coordinated player development during the baseball offseason.
He won the Texas League title in 2014 as manager of the Midland Rockhounds.
“As the Frontier League and the Slammers begin our partnership with Major League Baseball we are very excited to have someone with Aaron’s experience and record in affiliated baseball join us to lead our team on the field in 2021,” Slammers majority owner Nick Semaca said in a press release. “He is a proven winner, and a very strong developer of talent and all of us are pleased to add him to our Slammers family.”
This past summer would have been Nieckula’s first of not managing in 15 years as he was going to serve as the A’s Arizona Field Coordinator on a full-time basis. But there were no minor league seasons in the MLB due to the coronavirus pandemic, so his position was eliminated.
“MLB eliminated 40 teams and a lot of positions,” Nieckula said. “But this opportunity with the Slammers came about and I’m very happy it did.”
Especially since he’s resided in Yorkville since 2010 with his wife and three daughters. Nieckula said it took him 38 minutes to get to DuPage Medical Group Field as compared to 40 to arrive at Northwestern Medicine Field, home of the Kane County Cougars.
Born in Berwyn, growing up in Stickney, and graduating from Fenwick High School in Oak Park in 1994, it didn’t take Nieckula long to make his mark in baseball. He attended the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he earned a Communications Degree and was drafted out of Illinois in the 22nd round by the A’s in 1998.
He spent four years playing in the A’s minor league system, and a year playing in the San Francisco Giants minor leagues, reaching Triple-A briefly for 11 games in 2002. Soon afterward he became a coach. He graduated from Lewis University with a Masters Degree in Organizational Leadership in 2015.
A catcher in his playing career, Nieckula knows that playing that position has helped him as a manager.
“As catchers, we are involved in all aspects of the game,” he said. “Especially pitching, but really in all aspects. It’s on the job training to become a manager.”
For Nieckula, it goes way beyond knowing what pitches to call.
“You build relationships with your players,” he said. “Most of these players have aspirations of going in or back to the major leagues. But you get to know them not only as the player but as the person.”
Nieckula is involved in Mission360, which he advertises on his Twitter page as “Committed to learning, growing, adapting, and evolving. Challenger of the status quo. 1% better every day!”
“It’s a player/coaching development, a holistic approach,” Nieckula said of Mission 360. “It’s the entire package, the human being. I want to develop that mantra, that paradigm, and bring it here.
“The goal is to get the guys back in affiliated ball, but win a championship and have some fun along the way.”