By Rubin E. Grant
Caroline Nichols is her given name, but few people call the Hoover senior Caroline.
She’s better known by her nickname “Pepper.” In fact, few of her friends know that her name is Caroline.
“No one calls me Caroline except my teachers at school,” Nichols said. “My friends who have known me a while, when they hear someone call me Caroline they say ‘I didn’t know that your real name was Caroline.’”
Nichols can thank a soft drink for the nickname Pepper, specifically the Dr. Pepper commercial jingle: “I’m a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, she’s a Pepper, we’re a Pepper, wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?”
“I really liked that commercial and got a T-shirt with ‘Be a Pepper’ on it,” Nichols said. “I wore it every day. I was kind of a stubborn kid and I wouldn’t let my mom take it off.
“When I was about 5 or 6, I started playing softball and one of my dad’s best friends, whose daughter was one of my best friends growing up, was the coach of the team. Since I wore that shirt all the time, my dad and the coach started calling me ‘Pepper.’ I’ve grown in to it. It’s kind of cool and quirky.”
Although she’s only 5-foot-1, Nichols also has grown into a very good softball player. She has been playing on Hoover’s varsity softball team since she was in the eighth grade.
“She has a good sense for the game of softball,” Hoover coach Lexi Shrout said. “She gets it. I have coached her since her freshman year and she’s matured a lot as a player.
“This year we’re relying more on her at the top of the lineup to get on base and as a leader.
The lefty-swinging Nichols has been delivering at the plate. She was batting .490 with four doubles, 10 runs batted in, 11 runs scored and 16 stolen bases, heading into a tournament at Helena last weekend.
She also has embraced the role of team leader.
“I definitely think I have improved,” Nichols said. “I knew coming into the season I would have to step up. We had five seniors graduate last year and with me being a rising senior, I knew we were going to need more people to lead. I took it upon myself be that leader.”
Part of being a leader meant changing positions. She had played in the outfield the past three seasons, but she has been playing second base and shortstop this season.
“She’s one of the few players who can play wherever you want her to play,” Shrout said. “We’ve got a sophomore shortstop working to hold that position down, but Pepper will be in the middle infield.”
Shrout believes Nichols’ versatility will serve her well at the next level. She has signed with South Alabama, where she will join her sister Mary Catherine “MC” Nichols, a sophomore outfielder with the Jaguars who also played at Hoover.
“I think South Alabama is planning on using her at second base,” Shrout said of Pepper. “I think she’ll hit at the top of the lineup because of her speed, and her and her sister will make a great duo. They are very similar players, but MC is a little more laid back while Pepper is more fiery.”
South Alabama coach Becky Clark is happy to have Pepper join the Jaguars.
“I expect her to compete for time at both second base and in the outfield,” Clark said. “She will give us some much-needed depth and also add another base stealing threat to our lineup. Mentality wise she is a gritty player who loves to compete.”
In other words, Pepper brings spice to the diamond.