GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Chris Heisey walked into the clubhouse Monday morning, a bag of bats slung over his shoulder. When he reached his locker and dropped the bag on the floor, his dressing neighbor, Chris Nelson, said, "Man, that was some batting practice session. You are the talk of the camp."
A writer approached Heisey and said, "You look as if you are ready for the season. You are off to a great start, really stinging the ball."
Nelson laughed and jumped to his feet and said, "See what I mean? Everybody is talking about it."
In his first three spring training games, the Cincinnati Reds outfielder is hitting .375 with a double and a home run spliced into his eight at-bats.
Not bad for a guy forever tagged as, "A fourth outfielder." While it isn’t a label any player wants, Heisey is the first to admit, "It’s my own fault. This is my fifth year and every time I’m given a chance I fail. Maybe it is nerves. Maybe it is pressure."
To that end, Heisey has dropped his hands lower in his batting stance, "And so far it is working. This early in spring you don’t want to peak too soon but it is good to get your confidence back."
And the hands? "Lowering my hands relaxes me," he said. "The higher your hands, the more tension in your shoulders and less flexibility. I have a tendency to be a tense kind of guy, so I need to be relaxed in any way possible. I’ve been all over the place in my career with my mechanics, so I don’t make any promises that I’ll hit like this forever."
His manager, Bryan Price, sniffs the potential in Heisey’s body, a body that was judged the strongest on the team during strength tests this spring.
"Heisey is terrific and there has always been a feeling there is more in there," said Price. "We’ve always felt he is the type of guy who can push for a starting spot and not be the quintessential fourth outfielder.
"I really believe that he can be a regular every day player," said Price. "He can be outstanding and he is already a very solid major-league player. He is going to get a chance to play a lot of center field this spring and we’ll give him every opportunity we can."
Right now, the opportunity is limited, unless injuries pop up — as they always do. The outfield is filled with Ryan Ludwick in left, Jay Bruce in right and rookie speed god Billy Hamilton.