GOODYEAR, Ariz. — A fan asked an interesting question about Cincinnati Reds outfielder Chris Heisey: “If he played on another team would he be an everyday player?”
Most likely, depending upon the team, the answer would be in the affirmative because the 28-year-old resident of Mechanicsburg, Pa., certainly has the ability and the drive and the confidence.
He lives in the right town because on the field Heisey is a mechanic — has all the tools and finishing every game he plays with a torn, dirty, grease-stained uniform.
In fact, several teams have tried to pry Heisey away from the Reds, but even though he is not one of their everyday players they steadfastly keep their grips on him.
That’s because manager Dusty Baker considers him an invaluable piece of the puzzle, a fourth outfielder who can play all three positions and be a productive pinch-hitter when he isn’t playing.
“Unfortunately, you can’t play everybody,” said Baker. “I’ve talked to Heisey about it already. Hey, what he does is to be a very valuable person on your team. He is like my sixth man in basketball and they should give a Sixth Man Award, like in basketball. Heisey would win it.
“He can pinch-hit, play all three outfield positions if anybody goes down for a period of time,” Baker added. “He hasn’t quite shown yet that he can play every day. People want you to throw him out there for a month or two months, but it doesn’t work like that. Most chances don’t come in months, they come in days — unless you’re Bryce Harper and you’re 20 years old.”
Amazingly, Heisey is one of the team’s more popular players and his legion of fans harp on the fact they believe he should start.
So the question was put to Heisey: “If you played on some other teams do you think you’d be a regular?”
Heisey smiled at the question and said, “Man, people are putting me in a hard spot. My ideal answer is that I’d like the chance to start for the Cincinnati Reds.”
“I’m actually pretty confident that if I continue to progress and show them that I can do it in the future they’ll give me that opportunity,” Heisey added.
“I love Cincinnati because the Reds gave me the opportunity when every other team passed over me for 17 rounds. They are the ones to give me the opportunity and got me to the big leagues,” he said.
Actually, Heisey got himself to the big leagues, but he adds, “But they gave me every opportunity to get here and I’ve come to love the city.”
And the fans love him, too — a love affair with an extra player, a sixth man.
“I see Heisey jerseys at the ballpark,” he says with a grin. “It’s crazy, but I think part of it is the fact I have a passion for the game and the fans see it by how I play — how I dive and hustle balls out. They appreciate that so it makes me want to do more of the same. I want to bust my tail, work hard and play hard — what I try to do every day.”
Heisey, due to injuries and days off, started half the games last season, 36 games in left field, 34 in center field and 10 in right field. He hit .265 with seven homers and 31 RBI and he was 6-for-19 as a pinch-hitter.
“I take pride in the fact I can play all three outfield position at an above satisfactory level,” he said. “Even my teammates come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you are better in center field than people give you credit for.’ And I appreciate that. It is good to get recognition from the fans and the media, but there is nothing better than hearing it from your teammates, the guys out there sweating with you.”
Of Baker’s opinion of him, Heisey says, “In a way, yeah, that hurts me that I can do so much, like pinch-hit and play all three outfield spots. If I had succeeded more early when I was starting and not been such a good pinch-hitter, I might be starting now. But I view things on the positive side. I was a low draft pick and had to fight my way through the minors, so I’m proud I have three years of unbroken major-league service time. I’ve stuck and I take pride in that.”
Now Heisey wants to someday stick in the starting lineup.
“You can’t win without this type of player,” Baker said. “The difference between real good teams and other teams are the bench players. Everybody’s starting team is pretty good, but what happens when teams start losing starting players to injuries?”