OMAHA, Neb. -- Kyle Nicholson is enjoying the best of both worlds as a graduate manager on the Texas A&M baseball team.
Monday the former A&M pitcher was throwing batting practice at Creighton University on A&M's off day at the College World Series. He was working with the hitters on putting behind their four-hit effort in Sunday's opening 5-4 loss to South Carolina.
A week ago, Nicholson helped form a dogpile with those same players in celebrating an 11-2 victory over Florida State that captured the Tallahassee Super Regional, sending the Aggies back to the CWS for the first time since 1999.
"Making it here to Omaha, it's like a dream come true," Nicholson said. "My first year back helping out as a student coach has been ... I don't know if it's really even set in yet, to be honest. There's really no words to explain it. It's fun, it's exciting and everything you ever thought it would be."
Nicholson had expected to make it to the CWS as a player.
The former A&M Consolidated all-stater had a solid freshman season in 2004, going 3-0 in 21 games. He even pitched in the LSU Super Regional opener, but the Aggies were swept. The program then took a nosedive in Nicholson's next two seasons, going 55-55-2. But the Aggies roared back in 2007 with plenty of help from Nicholson's powerful right arm.
He had a brilliant senior season, leading the pitching staff in several categories. The first-team All-Big 12 performer was 11-3 with a 2.25 earned run average in 124 innings with 99 strikeouts and only 21 walks. He had four saves, three complete games and opponents batted .216 against him.
A&M lost a pair of heartbreakers to top-ranked Rice in super regionals, 3-2 and 5-2. Nicholson was the losing pitcher in the opener as the Owls rallied to tie the game in the ninth and win it in the 10th.
"We were just as good as any of the teams that were left standing in Omaha [those two years]," Nicholson said. "You know there's only one team left that wins its last game. It's tough to sit here and dwell on the past, because it's right here in front of you. It's just a dream come true."
His parents, who followed him across the state while playing at A&M Consolidated and then around the Big 12, are along to help the Aggies christen the $131 million TD Ameritrade Park.
"We're enjoying it together, which is a lot of fun," Nicholson said. "It was something that I had always hoped to experience, and now I get the opportunity to do that."
It's a celebration that was long overdue. The Nicholson family, along with most of College Station, thought the A&M Consolidated Tigers would win the Class 5A state championship in 2003 with a senior-laden team that had reached the regional finals the year before.
Consol, which many considered the top high school team in the country, was 30-3 but was swept in the regional quarterfinals by The Woodlands.
"That's something that goes through my mind," Nicholson said. "I think about that a lot. I think back to high school, about how you can underachieve as a team."
Two of Nicholson's teammates from Consol who were able to put that behind them and get to Omaha as players were pitchers Bobby Bramhall and Matt Langwell, who were on that 2007 Rice team. Bramhall was the winning pitcher in the super regional opener against the Aggies, beating Nicholson.
Now it's Nicholson's time to enjoy Omaha for the first of what he hopes will be several trips. He's got another year at A&M to get his master's in education administration before becoming a full-time coach.
He believes playing two years for former A&M head coach Mark Johnson and two years for Rob Childress, who is his current boss, prepared him well.
"[Coach Johnson] obviously is a Hall of Fame coach and just a wonderful person off the field," Nicholson said. "He treats his players with all the respect no matter what. Having that experience with him was awesome.
"And I really can't say how much I appreciate what Coach Childress has done for me and my career. He's got me to where I am today."
The hardest thing for him right now is the transformation from player to coach, but it also has been the most rewarding thing.
"I try my hardest to separate myself from the players," he said. "That's my job now. But I'm not that far removed from being a player, not even a year, and only four years from playing my last game at A&M."
That's why he couldn't help but get a little crazy with the players after beating Florida State, before also going over and reveling in the moment with Childress and the rest of the staff.
"Just being part of the excitement of accomplishing what you set out to do at the beginning of the year, knowing you are one of the last eight teams standing, that's just something that's hard to explain," Nicholson said.
Hard to explain, but easy for him to appreciate and want more.
"We wanted to come here and win this thing and we're not out of it," he said. "We're going to reel off some wins in a row to get back in it."