Drew Heid found his spot in the left-hand batter’s box. His left foot planted solidly, he awaited Joe Allison’s pitch.
In Heid’s first at-bat against the University of Arizona right-hander, Allison had caught him flat-footed with a big, slow breaking ball on a 1-2 count. It wouldn’t happen again.
This at-bat, with Gonzaga University trailing 1-0 in the third inning last Monday, Heid had changed strategy.
It’s part of what the senior center fielder does at the plate, adjusting to the pitcher’s plan of attack. This time he was going to get the barrel of the bat out quickly.
Behind 1-0, Allison tried to sneak a fastball past the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Heid on the inner half. Big mistake. The barrel got to the ball, driving it high and deep to right field. Caught by the breeze, the ball sailed over the 50-foot-high barrier and onto Trent Avenue, bouncing once and brushing a passing pickup truck.
The game was tied.
In one at-bat in a nonconference game against the nation’s 21st-ranked team, Heid had showcased nearly all the skills – his speed wasn’t needed jogging around the base paths – that have made him what Washington State coach Donnie Marbut calls “the best college hitter in the Northwest.”
Arizona coach Andy Lopez went even further.
“He’s as good a hitter as we’ve seen this year,” said Lopez, who sought out Heid following the 2-for-4 day to tell the GU outfielder how good Lopez thought he was. “He’s special, very special.”
Not too shabby for a 5-9, 165-pound high school senior who was overlooked by everyone coming out of Waterville (Wash.) High four years ago.
Maybe it was because Heid had moved after his sophomore year, leaving Touchet (Wash.) High for Waterville. Maybe it was because small-school players are just not seen all that often. Or maybe it was because he wasn’t a giant.
“He’s a perfect example of what we fall into as college coaches,” said Lopez who, as a former 5-7 UCLA second baseman, should know better. “We’re all looking for the 6-foot-3 center fielder, the guy you just get goose bumps looking at him in uniform and then you see a little dude like this that just plays the lights out of it, that makes all the plays and swings the bat the way he does and you go, ‘Why don’t we get guys like that more often?’ ”
Snubbed by the big schools, Heid found a place to play, joining his summer team coach – and current USF head coach – Mike Cummins at Walla Walla Community College. One year there – he hit .362 and set a WWCC record with 68 hits – and Gonzaga came calling.
“They gave me a great offer and I took it,” Heid said.
Gonzaga’s aggressiveness paid off. His sophomore year Heid hit a team-high .386, moving from the bottom of the lineup to the No. 3 spot by season’s end. Last season, as the Zags won the West Coast Conference title and earned an NCAA playoff spot, Heid had a .355 batting average, and collected 83 hits, including six in GU’s three NCAA games.
But that was just the appetizer.
The entrée came last summer in Alaska. Playing for Anchorage, Hein led the Alaska League in hitting (.427) and hits (73). He had 18 doubles, four home runs, 31 RBIs and was named league MVP.
See, Heid had an anger-management issue. He was angry no one in major league management had seen fit to draft him, so he took out his issues on the summer league pitchers.
“I was kind of going up to make a statement,” Heid said. “I wanted to show I should have gotten drafted. You guys were making a mistake.
“I hold that resentment, coaches and scouts saying I’m only 5-10, but that seems to be a way of saying I don’t have the raw power that a 6-foot guy would have.”
This season Heid, all 5-10 of him, is showing more pop in his bat. The mammoth home run against Arizona was his sixth of the season and, along with a fifth-inning single, lifted his average to .399.
“He’s got good power, it’s starting to show up a little more,” GU coach Mark Machtolf said. “I’m a firm believer that good hitters develop power, power hitters don’t become good hitters.”
Going into the ninth last Monday, GU trailed 5-4. Heid was scheduled to hit fourth. He stood, hoping to have a chance to lead the Bulldogs to victory.
“We’re taking (pitches) there in the last inning to try to get him to the plate,” Machtolf said. “He’s the one guy who’s going good, can backspin a ball and something funny could happen and get one out of here, then we win by one.”
It worked, sort of. A two-out error brought Heid to the plate with a runner on first. He decided to look for something away from reliever Nick Cunningham and, with the count 0-1, he got it, a fastball on the outer half.
The ball came off the bat with authority, ticketed to left-center field and a game-tying double. But shortstop Alex Mejia short-circuited the happy ending, leaping and spearing the drive over his right shoulder, the force pulling him backward and down to the outfield grass.
“I felt like I hit it well and everything, just right at the guy,” Heid said.
Matt Fanelli’s two-out RBI double in the seventh inning lifted Washington State (19-11) to a 5-4 nonconference win over visiting Gonzaga at Bailey-Brayton Field.
Paris Shewey (4-1) earned the win and Adam Conley recorded his eighth save.
WSU’s Cody Bartlett had a solo homer in the second and an RBI double in the fourth.
Royce Bolinger had two RBIs for the Bulldogs (12-20-1), who scored three in the seventh.
•Justin Murphy (5-1) entered in the 11th inning and picked up his team-high fifth win as Community Colleges of Spokane (17-9, 5-5) defeated Walla Walla 4-3 in 12 innings to open a NWAACC doubleheader at Spokane Falls CC.
Richie Carmichael and Travis Ruffin checked CCS on five hits as the Warriors (13-13, 5-5) won the second game 4-1.
CCS’ Travis Cooper had three hits in the opener.