Heisey has reason for optimism
Donegal grad takes step forward in Cincinnati system
By KEVIN FREEMAN, Sports Staff
Published: Sep 26, 2007 12:01 AM EST
LANCASTER COUNTY, PA -
Chris Heisey's minor league baseball season was a series of ups and downs.
The Donegal grad hit over .300 at one point, was promoted to a higher level and then saw his season come to an end after breaking his thumb.
So, yeah, good and bad.
While the season may have ended on a bit of a down note, Heisey is optimistic about the future.
Drafted in the 17th round by the Cincinnati Reds last year, Heisey, who played three years at Messiah College, spent last season playing rookie ball with Billings of the Pioneer League. An outfielder, he hit .286 with 10 doubles and six home runs.
Heisey, 22, started this summer in Dayton, Ohio, playing for the Dragons in the Midwest League, which is considered low "A" ball. By mid-July, Heisey was hitting a season-best .312. A couple of weeks later, his average had fallen to .281 but Reds still promoted him to Sarasota, a high "A" team.
"In Dayton, I was starting to get a little disappointed," said Heisey, who knocked in 46 runs with 24 doubles and nine homers for the Dragons. "I felt like I was hitting the ball well and then two weeks before I got called up, I went into a little slump. But that's baseball."
Because of that little tailspin, getting called up came as a surprise to Heisey.
"After hitting over .300 and driving some runs in, I thought maybe I had a chance to move up," he said. "At that point, we had already played 110 out of 140 games, so I wasn't counting on it by any means. But I was excited to find out that they thought enough of me to send me up there."
Many players who get promoted can't wait to see their former team in the rearview mirror. But not Heisey, who had a soft spot in his heart for the Dragons.
"It's kind of funny because, you're getting moved up so you're real excited, but at the same time, in Dayton we had a stadium that was unbelievable," he said. "We had 9,000-plus people a night and then you come down to Sarasota where the complex is a little older. There were 150-250 fans a night. It's a totally different atmosphere.
"So, in one sense, I was really excited but in another sense, it was kind of sad to leave a place like Dayton, where it was real nice to play with friendly people and a good fan base."
Despite the surroundings in Dayton, Heisey was moving on, which brought its share of trepidation. Could he hit and field with the more experienced players in Sarasota?
"You sense a little bit of pressure as you move up," he said. "They thought enough of me to move me up, so I've got to go up there and show the coaches and the players that I can play at the next level. There's a little bit of that, but I just go out and relax and try not to think about where I'm playing. Just go out there and do what I feel like I can."
Heisey arrived in Sarasota on Aug. 3 and played 12 games before he injured his thumb.
In a game against Dunedin, Heisey bunted a ball down the first-base line. As he approached first base, Heisey slid headfirst, trying to avoid the tag, and reached to touch the bag with his outstretched left hand. He caught his thumb on the edge of the bag.
"It hurt a little bit, but I just thought I jammed it," Heisey said. "I stayed in the game, and I actually ended up scoring."
While playing left field, however, Heisey caught a couple of fly balls and could tell he had done something more than just jamming his thumb.
"The one ball almost bounced out of my glove," he said. "I couldn't really squeeze the ball."
Unfortunately for Heisey, the Reds were playing the first game of a three-game series in Dunedin, meaning he had to wait a couple of days before he could have his hand X-rayed back in Sarasota. That's when it was determined the thumb was broken.
Sarasota, which won the Florida State League West Division first-half title, went into the playoffs and lost to the eventual FSL champ Clearwater in the division final. All Heisey could do was watch as he spent the time rehabbing his thumb, which needed to have pins put in to set the bone.
Heisey signed a standard minor-league contract when he was drafted, meaning the Reds hold his rights for six years. As for next season, he's going to to try and make the Reds' Double-A team, the Chattanooga Lookouts.
"I probably have a better chance of starting here (Sarasota), knowing their needs and what kind of outfielders they have," Heisey said. "It depends on whether they see enough improvement in me. My chances are helped because I did pretty well when I was down here, so I think I have a decent chance to make Double-A next year."
Heisey is getting to that stage in his career where numbers matter more than hustle and production means everything. He has to show progress at every level.
"I don't leave it up to whether or not I play 100 percent," he said. "It's whether or not I have the skill that will determine if I keep moving up or not."
So far, he's shown the skill, even through a season that was up and down.