For former Mount Vernon Nazarene College right-handed pitcher Andy Heimbach, the past year has been a roller coaster ride with plenty of ups and downs.
A native of Wheelersburg, Ohio, Heimbach put together one of the best seasons in collegiate history in 1999 as a junior as he posted a 13-2 record and led the NAIA in strikeouts (141) and earned run average (1.54). He also recorded a school-record six shutouts and tossed the first perfect game in school history.
For his efforts in 1999, Heimbach earned almost every award imaginable. He was selected as the NAIA National Player of the Year to go along with being named the American Mideast Conference and the National Christian College Athletic Association Player of the Year. Baseball America tabbed him as their Small College Player of the Year, and he was featured in Sports Illustrated in the "Faces in the Crowd" section. An excellent student, Heimbach was also named to the GTE Academic All-American Second Team.
As a result of all this success, the Boston Red Sox drafted Heimbach in the eighth round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft on June 2, 1999. However, Heimbach did not sign with the Red Sox and returned to MVNC for his senior season in 2000.
The 2000 season proved to be a different story for Heimbach. Bursitis in his right shoulder hampered him for the first month of the season. Then, once that had cleared up, numerous rainouts kept him from being able to get into a normal pitching rotation with week-long layoffs between some starts.
However, despite all of this, the former All-Ohioan at Wheelersburg High School still managed to post a 5-3 record with a 4.65 ERA. In 62 innings of work, he struck out 67 batters. He also tossed one shutout as he finished his career with 17 shutouts - setting a new mark for all levels of collegiate baseball.
Besides his national shutout record, Heimbach is the Cougars' career leader in strikeouts (339) and innings pitched (310 1/3), while tying the mark for most victories (37). He also ranks fourth in career ERA (2.58). In 50 career appearances, he posted a 37-8 record with 34 complete games.
With all of these accomplishments, Heimbach was waiting with anticipation for draft day to return once again. He knew as a senior that the chance of improving his draft of the previous year was a long shot, but he figured that the phone would ring at some point with his new team on the other end.
The first day of the draft came and went without call. Then, the second and final day came and went without a call. The one bright spot that day was when Heimbach's teammate, Dave Byard, was selected by the New York Mets in the 35th round.
After a couple of days passed, Heimbach was contacted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays about the possibility of flying to Chicago for an open tryout. Steve Foster, the Devil Rays' scout, had been Heimbach's coach when he pitched for the Wassau Woodchucks during the summer following his sophomore year at MVNC. The Woodchucks were a member of the Northwoods League, an NCAA-sanctioned wooden bat summer league.
Heimbach flew to Chicago for the tryout and things went well. After talking to his boss in the scouting department, Foster offered Heimbach a free agent contract with the Devil Rays. Once he signed the contract, Heimbach was sent to Charleston, South Carolina, to join the organization's full-season A-League team, the Charleston RiverDogs. The RiverDogs, who are members of the South Atlantic League, feature the Devil Rays' top two picks from a year ago on their roster including Josh Hamilton, the #1 player selected overall in 1999.
"It is a relief to finally be able to focus on playing baseball again," said Heimbach. "Obviously, being drafted in the eighth round last year had more prestige and honor, but signing with the Devil Rays was much more fulfilling. Steve (Foster) has been great to work with, and I am excited to play for the Tampa organization. This is the opportunity that I have been waiting for and I plan on making the most of it."
Through action on Friday, Heimbach has yet to pitch for Charleston as the team allows him a couple of games to get adjusted to his new team. However, Heimbach expects to see some action before the team takes a break for the All-Star Game next week.
"I am thrilled that Andy is getting another chance to play professionally," said MVNC head coach Keith Veale, who has had nine players sign professional contracts in his 11 seasons as the Cougars' skipper. "He has had an incredible journey to finally get there, but he has handled things incredibly well."
"I was so disappointed last week when he went undrafted," Veale added. "I felt that with his career record here and his track record on the mound from high school and college that he deserved a chance. To have the opportunity to go right to the South Atlantic League is a good trade-off for going undrafted. I wish him well and I am confident that he will succeed. He has been an absolute thrill to coach."
In becoming the sixteenth Cougar player to sign a professional contract, Heimbach joins a list that includes Tim Belcher of the Anaheim Angels - the #1 overall pick in the 1983 draft.
Andy Heimbach's Mount Vernon Nazarene College Career Statistics (1997-2000) Year G/GS CG SHO W L SV IP H R ER BB K ERA ==================================================================================== 1997 11/10 6 5 8 1 0 63.1 52 30 19 31 47 2.70 1998 13/13 11 5 11 2 0 91.2 62 26 22 30 84 2.16 1999 15/13 13 6 13 2 0 93.1 46 19 16 16 141 1.54 2000 11/9 5 1 5 3 0 62.0 60 38 32 30 67 4.65 ==================================================================================== Totals: 50/45 34 17 37 8 0 310.1 220 113 89 107 339 2.58