It’s been quite a year for Chris Heisey. After spending over nine years in the Reds organization, the outfielder was shipped to the Dodgers in early December for right-handed pitcher Matt Magill. The 30-year-old Heisey spent most of the season with Triple-A Oklahoma City but enjoyed a few cups of coffee with the Dodgers, slashing .154/.353/.545 in 34 plate appearances.
On Aug. 7, the Dodgers released Heisey. Five days later, the Blue Jays signed Heisey and assigned the Pennsylvania native to their Triple-A outfit, the Buffalo Bisons. Following 17 games and 67 plate appearances with Buffalo, the Dodgers reacquired Heisey on Sept. 1 and assigned him to Oklahoma City. After three games with Oklahoma City, Heisey was promoted to the Dodgers on Sunday, and has appeared in each’s of the team’s three games since his elevation to the bigs.
Shortly before he was traded back to the Dodgers’ organization, I was able to catch up with Heisey. I decided to go ahead and split our conversation into two articles, so today’s piece will include Heisey and I talking about his connection to Little League World Series runners-up from Lewisberry, Pennsylvania; his college years at Messiah College; the oddity of four players from the 17th round of the 2006 draft making the major leagues; and how difficult the last year has been for him on a personal level. Thursday’s Part II will primarily focus on Heisey’s experiences with the Reds.
RN: I’m guessing you were cheering on the team from Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, in the Little League World Series title game?
CH: Yeah, I was watching. I was obviously disappointed they couldn’t win it.
RN: How far is Lewisberry from Lancaster, your hometown?
CH: Actually, [Lewisberry] is where I live now. I work out at the facility owned by the team’s coach, Bret Wagner. It was kind of cool to watch.
RN: That’s pretty neat.
CH: I got to stop in and talk to them.
RN: Oh, yeah? When did you get to do that?
CH: We had a game in Lehigh Valley, (Pa.), and I stayed overnight there. Before I drove to Buffalo, I stopped in at Williamsport (Pa.). I got to talk to the team, give them a little pep talk, and cheer them on.
RN: What was your message? Kids at that age have no notion of the business of the sport, they still have the pure love for the game.
CH: Yeah. It was fun to watch how excited they were. They were loving getting to meet all the guys from other countries. I told them how jealous I was that they’re playing in front of bigger crowds than I am. It was pretty neat. They were excited.
RN: Did Todd Frazier make a big deal about playing in the Little League World Series every August when that tournament would start up, or was that more of a media-driven thing?
CH: Oh, yeah. No, he made a huge deal of it every time. He wanted to let you know he was a Little League World Series champ.
RN: How’s Buffalo been treating you so far?
CH: Not too bad. I actually like the city. It’s a nice city. I haven’t been playing too well since I’ve been here, but the team is great. I’m having a good time. I can’t complain.
RN: Is Chris Dickerson still on the team? I think he might be hurt.
CH: Yeah, he hasn’t been here. He must be rehabbing somewhere else.
RN: I think saw Danny Dorn is on the team. He came up through the Reds system about the same time you did.
CH: Yeah, he actually just got here today. We were talking a little bit. We came up together with Cincinnati, so it was good to catch up with him. It will be fun to play with him here for a couple days before the end of the season.
RN: Dorn was in the majors earlier this year, wasn’t he?
CH: Yeah, he got his first chance in the big leagues this year, which was cool. He’s been grinding it out in the minor leagues for a long time.
RN: I’d like to think that you’ve gotten yourself in Buffalo’s good graces after you came up with a walk-off home run right off the bat with them.
CH: Yeah, it was the second game of a doubleheader. It was my first day with them. I got my first career walk-off, which was pretty cool. It was a nice welcome to the new team. It was to fun to do that, especially on my first day here.
RN: How did you end up playing ball at Messiah College in Pennsylvania? I have to say, I had never heard of that school before you came up with the Reds.
CH: I didn’t have a ton of [scholarship] offers. I had some (offers) from Division II schools in Pennsylvania, but no other big offers. I was a pretty good high school basketball player, and in fact, basketball was probably my favorite sport in high school. Going to [Messiah], I knew I had the chance to play both if I got permission from the baseball and basketball coaches. That was one of the big factors, other than the fact that it was about a half-hour from home and that it was a Christian school.
RN: Did you end up playing basketball there?
CH: I did not. I spent fall of my freshman year playing baseball, and I felt like school was going to be pretty tough, so I decided to focus on baseball — but I didn’t have professional aspirations. I didn’t want to fail out of college, and I wanted to put all my time toward one thing. They were going to overlap a little bit and it was going to be a little too much for me, so I decided to focus on baseball.
RN: I saw on Baseball-Reference.com, you were actually the second guy from Messiah to get drafted, but you are the only one to play in the majors.
CH: Yeah, we had a pitcher get drafted by the Royals the year before me. Our catcher got signed by the Tampa Bay Rays, but he didn’t make it more than a couple of years in pro ball. Yeah, I’ve been the only one to make it to the big leagues from Messiah.
RN: You were drafted in the 17th round of the 2006 draft. No disrespect to you, but I think it’s fair to say most organizations aren’t expecting much out of a 17th-round draft pick. But not only have you made an impact in the majors, the guy drafted right after you is Pittsburgh’s Tony Watson, and he’s one of the best relievers around. And then, Josh Reddick and David Robertson were drafted later in that same round. That’s pretty crazy.
CH: I didn’t actually know that those guys were taken in that same round that year.
RN: Yeah, it’s weird. It’s pretty crazy.
CH: Yeah, that is nuts.
RN: Tell me about this year. I know the last calendar year has probably been a little difficult for you after spending so much time with the Reds.
CH: Yeah, it’s definitely been different after being in the big leagues for five straight years, and now doing the whole up and down thing, spending time in Triple-A again. It’s been different, but I’ve had a blast. Obviously, every one of us down here would love to be playing in the big leagues, but it’s good baseball down here too, and it’s a lot less pressure, more laid-back. Guys are a lot younger down here and are willing to spend time together outside of the ballpark. It’s been a fun year for me.
RN: I guess on the unfortunate side, you’re intimately familiar with the realities of pro baseball now. Not that you weren’t before because you were up and down with the Reds a few times, but it’s been three organizations in less than a year for you.
CH: Yeah, it’s kind of one of those things that I was shocked that it hadn’t happened sooner because of the nature of the game. Especially as a bench player, to be in the same spot for five straight years without going down to Triple-A was, you know, kind of unheard of. I was really grateful for my time [in Cincinnati].
RN: Did it take time for you to come to terms with being traded to the Dodgers in the offseason? I know you mentioned that being a bench guy and staying in the same spot for a while was a little unusual, but at the same time, you did have that stability. I’m sure you weren’t expecting to be traded.
CH: Right, no I definitely wasn’t. It was definitely a shock. That being said, it didn’t take me completely off-guard just because of the nature of the game. Being traded to Los Angeles, so far from home, was definitely a little bit of a shock. I know my wife and I were like, ‘Man, this is definitely crazy that it’s 3,000 miles away from home.’
This interview has been lightly edited. Photo courtesy of the Buffalo Bisons. Part II of this interview will run at noon on Thursday.