Blue Jays catcher Mike Nickeas has soccer in his blood, dad played for Whitecaps

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

DUNEDIN, Fla. - Mike Nickeas swings a baseball bat for a living but soccer is in the Blue Jays catcher's blood.

Nickeas was born in Vancouver, courtesy of his father's tenure with the Vancouver Whitecaps of the then-North American Soccer League.

Mark Nickeas, a defender from Southport, was an apprentice with storied Liverpool in his native England before playing for Plymouth Argyle. He then came to North America and played outdoors in Vancouver and San Jose and indoors in Dallas.

His first contract and first Nike endorsement contract are framed back home in California. And Nickeas Sr. tells stories of being in the Liverpool boot room, cleaning up for the veterans.

"He can polish a shoe," Mike said with a smile.

Nickeas' dad was training in Southern California in the off-season, taking advantage of the good weather to rehab an injury. He met his future wife, an American, and they returned to England before coming back to sign with Vancouver.

Born in 1983, Mike and his family left Vancouver when the NASL disbanded.

He grew up in California, attending Dodgers games with his grandfather. His dad also fell in love with the sport.

Mike played goalkeeper in soccer growing up but says "I kind of ran out of talent when I turned 12." Baseball was his passion.

He now calls Atlanta home after attending Georgia Tech and meeting wife Rebecca there. They have been married seven years.

One of three catchers in camp with experience handling knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and bidding to back up incumbent J.P Arencibia, the 30-year-old Nickeas may be destined for Class-AAA Buffalo this season.

He is no stranger to the city, having spent parts of the 2009, '10, '11 and '12 seasons there.

"It's great. It's a beautiful stadium," he said. "It's actually a really neat city ... it's a great place to play baseball. The International League is super-competitive, great pitching."

Known primarily for his defensive abilities, Nickeas hit .174 in 47 games last season with one home run and 13 RBIs as a backup with the Mets. He came over last December in the Dickey trade.

He already has American and British passports but is looking into whether a Canadian passport is possible.

After British authorities contacted him, he played in the European Cup in Barcelona in 2007.

"It was very cool," he said. "We weren't supposed to do anything special but we went over there and ended up losing to the Netherlands in the championship game so we took a silver medal."

The British team included players with Australian, Canadian and American roots.

He hopes to play international baseball again, noting the British team failed to advance out of the World Baseball Classic qualifier that included Canada.

"I love international baseball," he said.

Nickeas' dad has plenty of his own sporting memories. He played against Pele and the New York Cosmos and has a signed ball and program from the game.

"He's been over here in the States for 27, 28 years but he's still got the accent," Nickeas said of his dad.

His father and uncle now have their own business, based on patents for security devices for water and gas mains.

"They've kind of invented some neat things," said Nickeas. "They're entrepreneurs. They're kind of testing their luck and they're doing very well."

As for Nickeas, he renewed acquaintances with Vancouver when he was with Spokane in the Northwest League. He played the Canadians at Nat Bailey Stadium and visited his godfather.

"I just love the city. It's beautiful, a great place."