EDINBURG — McAllen High sophomore Aaron Nixon has never shied away from the spotlight, but he has never demanded it, either.
Nixon was thrust into the public eye before he was done with middle school, when he committed to play baseball at the University of Texas.
Since then the expectations and demands on him have grown year by year, yet he has continued to rise to the occasion.
A move from third base to shortstop this year could have come with a learning curve, but instead Nixon put together his most spectacular season yet. He hit .441 with 41 runs, 31 RBIs, eight doubles, five triples and two homers. On the mound, he pitched 68.2 innings, posting a surreal 0.82 ERA with 104 strikeouts and just 15 walks allowed.
For Nixon’s epic season at the dish, on the bump and at the most difficult defensive position, he is The Monitor’s 2018 All-Area Baseball Player of the Year.
Nixon helped lead the Bulldogs on an undefeated run through District 30-6A before reaching the third round of the playoffs. The team was ranked No. 1 in the state by Texas High School Baseball.
“In the playoffs, when a runner gets on, it’s always a pressure situation because everyone can hit,” Nixon said. “This year we played three tough teams and we went three games with all of them. We got a lot of experience now, and we have a young group coming back. I think the next few years are going to be really fun with these guys.”
Nixon is a kid like the rest of his teammates. He enjoys memes and video games. But when he steps on the field, he is a man amongst boys, his patented eye black smeared across his cheeks, hiding a face that shows his youth.
Last year, he didn’t get to start as a pitcher, instead focusing on hitting and defense. He dominated both, and earned more chances to pitch out of the bullpen. In the end, he was the one the Bulldogs turned to when they needed to preserve a lead late in playoff games.
The enormous expectations that followed him into his freshman year grew after a stellar campaign. Flash forward to this year, and those even bigger expectations were exceeded once again.
At this point the only question left about Nixon is how he can possibly keep improving.
“I want to get back to stealing again. I didn’t get a steal this year because Rigo (Moreno) was always on base in front of me,” Nixon said with a chuckle. “I have a lot of learning to do. How they are pitching me is always changing, and I have to adapt and be ready for what they are doing. I won’t have Abanny (Garcia) behind me next year, so it will be a little tougher.”
His drive to be better comes from his father, Beau. A marine veteran, Beau played baseball up until a shoulder injury took him out of the game. But he never stopped studying the game. Aaron’s love for the game came from his father. The two spent hours watching, talking about and playing baseball together as Aaron grew up.
“My dad is my biggest supporter, but he is also my toughest critic,” Aaron said. “I am really thankful for that because some dads think their son is the best. He thinks I’m good for sure, but he is hard on me and I’m really glad that I have that, because it always keeps me humble. I never get too high because of him. He’s really supportive during the game.”
Anyone who watches a Bulldogs game will quickly spot Beau, tablet in hand, tracking all sorts of data, and squirming with agony or triumph after every pitch.
“He researches the game a lot,” Aaron said. “He helps me with that a lot, because he understands how they are pitching me, and he breaks it down to me. The fundamentals, the mechanics, he just knows about pretty much every part of the game. He has a great baseball mind.”
When the two sit in the stands at a game at Aaron’s future home of UT, the conversations always revolve around the action on the field.
“It’s like I’m playing,” Aaron said. “Every at-bat is like, ‘What do you think they are going to throw here?’ ‘What do you think they are going to throw there?’ It’s just about getting me ready for my future.”
Nixon’s future could be in pro ball someday, but he stays focused on the here and now, and if he doesn’t, his dad will pull him right back into the present.
Still, that fun, loving kid that fans often forget is under the dirt-stained uniform and Bulldogs cap, has dreamed of the day he gets to throw up a “Hook ‘Em Horns” and toe the rubber for the biggest school in the state.
“I have worked very hard for that, and I will continue to work hard for that,” Aaron said. “I think it will be amazing, because I have worked my entire life for this. It will be a great moment when it happens.”
And when it happens, you can bet Beau will be somewhere close to the dugout tormented by the nerves yet again.