Coming home: Chicago native Nicky Lopez brings leadership, culture change to White Sox

With a focus on bringing optimism to the Chicago White Sox, Nicky Lopez embraces his role as a leader and aims to contribute to the team’s resurgence. (Photo by Joe Eigo/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE – On the doorstep of the most important day of his life, Chicago White Sox second baseman Nicky Lopez received a call most players dread.

Lopez was with his family and friends in Rancho Mirage, California, at his Nov. 17 rehearsal dinner the night before his wedding when, in the middle of it, he got the news from Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos.

He was getting traded.

With friends and family around, what is an often painful call turned into a chance for Lopez to live out a childhood dream. Lopez was heading home. He had been traded to the White Sox and would be playing in a ballpark on Chicago’s South Side just over 30 miles from his hometown of Naperville, Illinois.

“It was definitely a whirlwind. You know, selfishly it was like, I wanted to talk about baseball,” Lopez said. “But also unselfishly it’s like hey, this is not only about me. It’s about you know, my family. It’s about my wife.”

His family was thrilled with the news, along with those who had been by Lopez’s side since the beginning and were eager to finally watch him on a consistent basis.

Nicky Lopez highlights the support of his family and his love for video games as sources of solace amid the challenges of the game. (Photo by <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Joe Eigo</a>/Cronkite News)

Nicky Lopez highlights the support of his family and his love for video games as sources of solace amid the challenges of the game. (Photo by Joe Eigo/Cronkite News)

“They live for baseball and (they’re) a great supporting staff,” Lopez said about his family. “From my parents to my two older brothers, they’ve been unbelievable. They’ve been through it all. Through Creighton (University) and high school. So just being able to say, ‘Hey, I’m coming back to Chicago.’ It means a lot to them.”

That support got him through a hectic offseason preparing living arrangements for Chicago. Lopez, going into his ninth year in pro baseball, has taken his family on a ride through every high and low in the sport. He has been traded, promoted, demoted, benched and everything in between.

The next stop on that journey might be a fairly seamless transition as Lopez, 29, already played against many of his new White Sox teammates for years during his tenure with the Kansas City Royals, the team that first drafted him in 2016. He debuted with the Royals in 2019 before being traded to the Braves in the middle of the 2023 season.

Now, coming to the White Sox from a loaded Braves team along with fellow teammates Mike Soroka, Jared Shuster, Riley Gowens and Braden Shewmake, Lopez had some familiarity going into the new clubhouse.

He even sees some similarities between the White Sox and last year’s Braves team chock-full of chemistry.

“Everyone’s been there clicking and it’s not a lot of stand-off people here. There’s not a lot of people that are going their separate ways, which is good. That’s the kind of culture we’re trying to build,” Lopez said. “That’s one thing the Braves had and still have. They were all a close-knit family.”

Part of that chemistry is built by second-year manager Pedro Grifol, who keeps high expectations for his players and believes Lopez will be a key contributor this season.

“That’s who he is. It’s our responsibility and his responsibility to make sure he stays within his game,” Grifol told CHGO. “They’re complementary pieces to this lineup.”

Lopez is part of an offseason plan attempting to create stability within the team.

“We really need to establish the identity of what the White Sox are about,” Gifol told CHGO.“I feel like we’ve lacked that. So I’ve set out to do that right now.”

Lopez mentioned how a big part of a clubhouse culture was being able to mesh with players from all around the world. He said that what made that Braves clubhouse so special was the fact that no matter where they were from, everyone was hanging out together. Whether they were from Venezuela or Memphis, everyone in that room was connected.

As Nicky Lopez transitions to the Chicago White Sox, he brings invaluable experience, leadership and a fresh perspective from his time with the Atlanta Braves. (Photo by Joe Eigo/Cronkite News)

As Nicky Lopez transitions to the Chicago White Sox, he brings invaluable experience, leadership and a fresh perspective from his time with the Atlanta Braves. (Photo by Joe Eigo/Cronkite News)

Part of that intercultural harmony could stem from the fact that last year’s season followed the conclusion of the World Baseball Classic tournament, which Lopez played in for team Italy.

Lopez raved about his time in the tournament, saying, “It was an unbelievable experience. Just to be able to do it with Italy, where my ancestors grew up and are from and be able to visit Italy and see what life is like over there. I look forward to actually this next offseason going back there. But I mean, it was unbelievable, and I look forward to (representing) them again.”

While that next time may not come during the Olympics due to restrictions from Major League Baseball, Lopez said he plans to represent Italy in the 2026 WBC tournament and if anything changes he would jump right into an opportunity to play in future Olympic games.

Before he gets there, Lopez will play his next two seasons in the arbitration process before reaching free agency. The arbitration system, much like the game itself, breaks players down. Going into the season, Lopez has a lot to play for and has learned to manage the pressure.

“Don’t run from the fact that baseball is hard. But also you know that it’s going to slap you in the face a couple times,” Lopez said. “Having a couple things maybe outside of baseball that can get your mind off of baseball is huge as well. But you can’t hide from the fact that it’s tough.”

When times get tough, Lopez has been able to lean on his family and his love for video games to escape the daily grind on the field.

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“I’ve always been a big video game fan. Still am. I guess you know, my brothers always played and I kind of just played with them,” Lopez said.

The bond over video games has even extended into the clubhouse. Lopez said he had played with some of his teammates. The White Sox’s camaraderie has been on display throughout spring training and helps foster an atmosphere of optimism for the potential of this team.

It’s the same team that has retained a large part of a 2021 core that won 93 games en route to an AL Central title and a trip to the playoffs. In what has been a wide-open division, Lopez thinks the Sox can rebound off last year’s tough 61-101 finish.

“We’re coming here to change the culture,” Lopez said. “The vibes have been great. Like you said, the AL Central, everyone knows it’s up for grabs. It’s always been very competitive. But also we know that any team can win at any time in the AL Central.”

That’s the mission for Lopez. It’s not just a homecoming, not just a stop before free agency in a few years. He wants to set the tone for a city that has obsessed over baseball for more than a century. On a team full of young talent, Lopez brings more than just a solid glove.

He has experience, leadership, and more importantly coming off his stint with the Braves, perspective on what it takes to build a winning clubhouse.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Stephen Buxton expects to graduate May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Buxton has experience with Varsity Sports Show calling football games for Desert Mountain this last season and AZPreps 365 reporting on local high school sports. After graduating he hopes to get a broadcasting job dreaming of one day doing play by play for football or baseball.

Joe Eigo joe EYE-go (he/him)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Joe Eigo expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Eigo is in his third semester at Cronkite News. He has previously worked with Inferno Intel, WCSN, The State Press and The Racing Experts.