By Bob Nightengale |
They scouted him, analyzed him, debated over him, and a few teams actually spoke directly to him.
But, in the end, no one would touch him.
Forty rounds passed in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft. Some 1,214 players were taken, many with inferior talent.
Luke Heimlich’s name was never called.
Now, with Oregon State in the super regionals of the NCAA playoffs, and Heimlich’s collegiate eligibility expiring after the tournament, this could be the final month of his pitching career.
Major League Baseball has provided countless opportunities to players with drug and alcohol problems, performance-enhancing drug violations, and arrests for everything from armed robbery to domestic violence charges.
Still, no one was willing to take a chance on Heimlich, one of the finest left-handers in the draft, afraid of the repercussions and fallout for drafting a Level 1 sex offender.
It doesn’t matter that seven years have passed since Heimlich pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting his six-year-old niece.
It doesn’t matter that Heimlich, 22, now denies that he ever touched his older brother’s daughter, saying he signed a confession only to spare the family of further trouble.
And, certainly, it doesn’t matter that Heimlich happens to be one of the most talented left-handed pitchers in the nation, going 15-1 with a 2.42 ERA this season for Oregon State.
Simply, there was no franchise, no front office, and no owner willing to give Heimlich a second chance.
Not now, at least.
Maybe, not ever.
Heimlich likely will have to go to an independent league if he wants to pursue a major-league career, permitting more teams to talk with him, monitor him, and allow more time to pass.
If he’s a model citizen, conducts himself professionally, and a team still is comfortable after such heavy scrutiny, maybe then someone will reach out.
Yet, no time will be the right time to explain to a fan base and corporate sponsors that Heimlich deserves a second chance.
Maybe it’s justice.
Perhaps he deserves a second chance from society, but baseball, a private institution, doesn’t owe him a thing.
He could become a 20-game winner in the big leagues, maybe a Cy Young winner or even a perennial All-Star, but all 30 teams don’t want him wearing their uniform.
For now, star talent will not trump propriety.
One veteran scouting director, who spoke on the telephone with Heimlich, told USA TODAY Sports that the pitcher also denied to him that he inappropriately touched his niece, hinting that he was protecting a family member.
Heimlich sounded convincing. The scouting director wants to believe Heimlich.
“But how do you know?” the scouting director said. “How do you really know? And everyone in the game is afraid of that uncertainty.’’
So Heimlich is left having to decide what he wants to do with the rest of his life.
Does he go to independent ball, hoping he’s so dominant as a pitcher that someone finally caves?
Or does he go on quietly with life, utilizing his skills as a speech communications major, perhaps raising a family of his own.
Heimlich may forever be pained that he never had the opportunity to realize his dream, but he’ll also never realize the trauma his niece will endure the rest of her life, either.
The Heimlich family will be scarred forever, dividing a family in which Heimlich says that his parents stand behind him, but refuse to publicly speak out. A family in which his brother and wife divorced three months after the allegations first surfaced. A family in which his ex-sister-in-law believes her daughter, saying that not only is Heimlich lying, but she hopes he never plays another game.
The case is closed now. The records are expunged. And no longer does Heimlich have to register as a sex offender.
Perhaps, it’s the way it should be, and even without a trial, the game of baseball was the judge and jury.
Heimlich’s victim won’t have to relive the trauma every time she turns on the TV and sees him play a baseball game.
Maybe, justice truly was served.