03/22/10 8:50 PM ET
Heisey's strength comes from within
Reds prospect thankful for achievements despite hardship
By Jamie Ramsey / Cincinnati Reds
What's different is that Chris' story is authentic, not a work of fiction and not "loosely" based on "true" events. It's 100 percent real life. And although we can't foreshadow the plot twists that still may await Chris, his own personal dramatic feature -- like the ones in Hollywood -- has the hero winning in the end.
Last year, Heisey batted a combined .314 with 22 homers, 77 RBIs, 21 stolen bases and a .900 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) in 134 games with Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville. It was a breakout season for him, and he opened the eyes of the Reds brass and earned the Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award as the organization's Minor League Player of the Year
"I guess ever since I was drafted," says Heisey, "I've played a little bit above average, but last year, I guess I put myself on the map a little bit."
Finally on the map after getting drafted from a place that doesn't appear on many of them, Heisey was picked in the 17th round in 2006 out of little ol' Division III Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. After flying under the radar during his first three seasons on the Reds farm, he's suddenly catapulted himself into big-city status. Baseball America named Heisey the fourth-best prospect in the Reds system following last season's performance, and he entered camp this spring as a candidate for a roster spot on the big league team.
But Heisey doesn't want you to think his "star-turn" season was glamorous.
"I knew I had a good year," Heisey explains, "but in my mind, I was kind of kickin' myself because I knew I didn't play as well in Triple-A as I should have."
Heisey refers to his .278 average in 63 games for the Triple-A Louisville Bats -- the lowest he's hit since his pro debut in 2006.
"In my heart, I was feeling a little disappointed that I finished as low as I did because I knew I could've been better," Heisey said.
Reds Minor League Player of the Year, fourth-best prospect in the organization as named by one of the most reputable publications in the sport, Southern League All-Star, XM Futures Game All-Star, Reds Minor League Player of the Month for May, Southern League and International League Batter of the Week, candidate to make the big league team ... yet disappointed.
If you think Chris Heisey is a perfectionist, you'd be right. He often remarks how he should "do better." He had one of the best seasons a baseball player could have, yet he yearns to improve. He's an honest and wholesome man, a man of God, who feels he can also do better in life. Humble yet competitive, Heisey has the qualities of a Frank Capra character -- a role model not just for kids, but for adults alike.
Just like anyone else, Chris Heisey is a family man. He's dedicated to his wife, Lisa, who was also an athletic standout at Messiah College on the school's field hockey team -- "She's my wife, my batting coach, my nutritionist; she's really important" -- and he's the pillar of his immediate family, which includes his mother Linda, his younger brother Jon and his two younger sisters Katie and Jessica.
Chris' sister Jessica has DiGeorge Syndrome, a rare chromosomal disorder that has kept her from living a normal life during her 20 years.
"It caused a lot of complications, especially when she was really young," remembers Heisey. "Jess needed a heart operation and suffered a couple of strokes when she was just weeks old. She's still pretty much full-care. She can walk and can listen to instructions but can't really talk. She makes one syllable-sounds rather than talking."
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Although he and his siblings help out when they can, Heisey's mother does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to taking care of Jessica, a task that became doubly difficult when Chris' father, Craig, became sick.
"I remember the summer of 2004 when we were at the beach and we noticed his foot was kind of dragging behind him in the sand," said Chris of his father. "We were like, 'What's going on?' And then the following spring, he was kind of having trouble walking."
Craig went to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." On Oct. 5, 2007, Chris' dad -- his best friend -- passed away.
"I finished the season in Sarasota in 'A' ball," says Chris. "I broke my thumb two weeks before the season ended, so they let me come home for a couple of weeks, and then I had to go back to rehab for a week. I'd been home for only about another week before he ended up dying."
Chris mourned Craig's loss, but he felt he also had a responsibility to the rest of his family, especially to Linda.
"Obviously, it's been really hard on her, but she's a very strong person," explains Heisey. "I have a handicapped sister who takes up a lot of my mom's time. When my dad was sick, she had a lot going on. I don't know many people who could've dealt with it as well as she did and not complain.
"It pretty much fell all on her to take care of my sister and my dad, and she remained strong through it all. She prays all the time and asks God for the strength to deal with it, so that's another thing that helps keep her strong through all of these tough times."
The competitive desire for improvement seeps into Heisey's role with his family as well. He is in no way trying to take over Craig's role as the family patriarch, but he tries to be there for support and to keep the family upbeat. But as is his mantra, he admits, "There are things I wish I'd do better."
Despite the family hardships and heartbreak he's endured, Heisey isn't the kind of guy to feel sorry for himself or complain that he was dealt an unfair hand. On the contrary, he's thankful.
He's thankful for Lisa: "Obviously, having my wife through all of this -- we got married a couple of months after my dad passed away, but she was there before, so having her as a support system and being able to go home and cry on her shoulder [has been a relief]," Chris offers.
And he's thankful for the time he got to spend with Craig while he was still alive.
"I love talking about my dad," he says. "At first, it was kind of hard, but the bitterness has turned into thankfulness that I had my dad in my life as long as I did. We were able to play on our church softball team together, and that was kind of cool. I know it's not the same as Ken Griffey Jr. and Senior playing together on a Major League team, but it was cool to play with my dad. He really was my best friend and we had a lot of good times, even when he was sick toward the end of his life."
It's been more than two years since Heisey's father died. As time passes, it gets easier to deal with the loss. Chris maintains a rich relationship with his siblings, including Jessica, who loves when her brother comes home after spending the summer playing baseball. Lisa is adjusting to life as a baseball player's wife, and although she wishes there was a little more stability in the lifestyle, she's "getting better." So is Chris, in life and on the diamond.
"I know I still feel I can get a lot better," he says.
What's most admirable about this real-life protagonist is his outlook on things. Ever grateful, Heisey feels blessed and fortunate.
"There are a lot of people who are a lot less fortunate than even my family," says Heisey.
"Sometimes we want to focus on the people who have it better off than we do instead of the people who have it worse off. When you can look at other people who have it worse than you, you can say, 'Hey, I do have a lot; things aren't as bad as they seem.' I wish I could do that all the time but when I catch myself feeling down or saying, 'This isn't fair.' That's what you have to do."
This summer, wherever Chris Heisey is playing baseball, here's hoping he steals the show.
Jamie Ramsey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.