Many athletes dream of being drafted by a professional sports team, but very few can say they were drafted by their favorite team. Myrtle Beach Pelicans relief pitcher Michael Heesch is one of the lucky few living that dream.
A native of Crystal Lake, Il., Heesch is a life-long Cubs fan who was selected in the eighth round of the 2012 MLB draft. The pitcher grew up admiring players such as Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Derek Lee and yes, he remembers the heartbreak of the 2003 playoffs.
“To get drafted by the team you grew up watching as a kid, wishing you played for, dreamed about playing for, to finally get that chance is something very few people get to experience,” he explained. “Just being considered to play at this level is a very big honor.”
As if being selected by the Cubs wasn’t exciting enough, Heesch was part of Theo Epstein’s first draft class after making the move from Boston to Chicago.
“Everybody knows what [Epstein’s] done in Boston and being part of that first class, you know you’re a part of the start of something big,” Heesch said. “They don’t draft people for no reason, so it makes you feel good about yourself.”
Fast-forward three years to present day and it’s amazing to see how much the entire Cubs organization has grown and improved, making them a serious threat to the rest of baseball. Heesch’s inner Cubs fan is excited that the team is finally winning, but the ballplayer in him is just as happy to see current rookies he once played with, such as Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, get their shot in the big leagues.
“To see those guys get called up and you meet guys throughout the years and watch them get called up, that’s awesome to see them have that kind of success,” Heesch said of his former teammates that are now making headlines in the majors.
Part of what has made the entire Cubs organization so successful since Epstein’s reign in Chicago is “The Cubs’ Way,” a manual that describes the team’s approach to the game. Heesch loved the idea.
“I think the biggest thing [‘The Cubs’ Way’ explained] was the winning atmosphere, the implication of the “W” flag…and understanding what it means to win in Chicago because it’s different than playing in a lot of cities,” he said. “There’s a really rich tradition [in Chicago] and presenting that to all the minor leagues and hearing ‘this is the way we’re gonna do things’ and ‘this is how we’re going to do things’ and now we’re watching that become a success.”
Heesch has certainly found success with the Pelicans as a crucial member of their bullpen, especially being one of two left-handed pitchers, holding a 2.15 ERA in 58.2 innings pitched.
“My job is simply to go out and protect the lead or keep the score the way it is out of the bullpen, and just to get left-handers out,” he said of his role. “I just try to do that and nothing else.”
In July, Heesch had the opportunity to spend a few days with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs and found the experience to be a great learning opportunity.
“The main thing I learned was how to carry yourself,” the pitcher said. “You sit there and watch them; how they carry themselves on and off the field and how they do things. That’s how big-leaguers do it and that’s what you want to be, so you kinda learn that.”
Heesch and the Pelicans are down to their final days of the regular season of minor league ball before they venture onto the Carolina League playoffs, but the Cubs still have another month left to fight for a spot in the major league playoffs. Can they make it? Heesch says yes and that people don’t give this young team enough credit.
“I’ve seen [the Cubs] in the years past and this is a different team,” he said of a potential playoff run. “It’s really cool to watch that, and I think they have a good chance.”