McCombs: Former USCB star Heesch takes opportunity by the horns

mmccombs@islandpacket.comJuly 16, 2014 

Michael Heesch


Sometimes in sports, the best an athlete can do is perform well enough to give him or herself an opportunity to succeed. The key is taking advantage of those opportunities when they are presented.

That's just what Michael Heesch did last week.

The 24-year-old left-handed pitcher was with the Single-A Kane County Cougars on the road in Davenport, Iowa, when he got the news around 1 a.m. Wednesday morning he was needed by the Triple-A Iowa Cubs as bullpen insurance for that night's game in Omaha, Neb.

The Chicago Cubs had made several personnel moves that left their Triple-A pitching staff short-handed.

Heesch left at 3 a.m. for his flight, unable to even retrieve his equipment from the clubhouse in Davenport, where the stadium was locked. The former USC Beaufort ace got into Omaha around 10 a.m. for a 4:05 p.m. start.

"They said, 'If we need you, just go out there and do what you can, and we'll take whatever you can give us,' " Heesch said.

Ironically, Heesch maintains, the Cubs were only asking him to do what he has become accustomed to -- controlling what he can and letting the rest go.

"I just went into it not really worrying about whether or not I was going to pitch, and If I did, I'd just do what I always did: do my best and have fun," Heesch said. "I'm going to enjoy it. It's a very rare opportunity."

Enjoy it, he did.

When the game went into extra innings, Heesch came in and tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings in the 2-1, 14-inning victory over the Storm Chasers to earn the win.

It was an impressive feat for a pitcher who had never pitched above Single-A. And he did it with a borrowed glove and a pair of cleats he got from reliever Zac Rosscup, who ironically closed the game out in relief of Heesch.

Before the promotion, Heesch was already putting together a strong season at Kane County. He's striking out more than a batter an inning and allowing fewer hits than innings pitched since a move back to the bullpen that he said suits him well.

"It's a really good fit for me personality wise, stuff wise," Heesch said. "I'm really pumped about it. I like to pitch as much as possible. As a bullpen guy, I can throw back-to-back nights, three outings in three days."

While the move to the bullpen may suit him, the biggest key to Heesch's season might have been something usually considered a setback.

He underwent an emergency appendectomy the last week of spring training that kept him out two months.

"It was a blessing in disguise," the Illinois native said. "I got stronger and took my time to work on the stuff they had me working on in spring training, trying to make the best of it. Right now, who knows, if I didn't have that happen, I may not have gone to Triple-A."

But it did happen. And Heesch made the most of it.

The celebration was short-lived last Wednesday. Twenty minutes after the game, Heesch got word he was headed back to Single-A. After a day of rest, he flew out and met up with the team in Quad Cities.

"I wasn't surprised, but I was hopeful," he said. "I'll admit though, I thought, 'maybe they'll keep me, I did well enough.' But I try not to worry about that. I just try to go out and do my job. Pitch and that's it. It's the only thing I control."

His time in Triple-A was brief, but Heesch definitely took something away from it.

"It was definitely a confidence boost," he said. "I know I can stand up with the big boys, for sure."

The Cougars' regular season ends Sept. 2, though the team has already clinched a first-half playoff berth.

Given his performance the first time around, there's a good chance the big boys will come knocking again. And again, Heesch will be ready to pitch.

"It's the only thing I control."

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