South/North Xtra: Recent acquisition swings hot bat for Wild Things

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Andrew Heck knew he just needed another chance.

A North Hills High School graduate and former Duquesne University pitcher, Heck had signed with the Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League, but was cut by the team in spring training.

It took a few months of searching, but Heck finally found that second chance and, so far, he has made the most of it. Turns out, that chance wasn't far from home.

Heck signed with the Washington Wild Things on June 16 and has wreaked havoc on Frontier League pitching since then, hitting .396 (28 for 71) with 1 home run and 8 RBIs in 17 games (through Monday).

"I was just trying to get on another team because I felt like I proved to myself in spring training that I can play in this league," Heck said.

"I thought I had a decent spring and just knew that I needed another opportunity. I'm just glad that I got that opportunity back close to home."

Heck went 3-for-5 in his Wild Things debut June 16, and had 10 multi-hit games through Monday. He hit his first Frontier League home run in Washington's 3-2 loss to Lake Erie June 25.

"Just trying to hit the ball hard, hit the ball on the barrel. Not trying to do too much and stay within myself," Heck said.

Even though he's new to the league, Heck said he has already noticed some teams tweak their approach to pitching him the second time they face him. He faced Florence (Ky.) in his Wild Things debut, and said the Freedom made some adjustments when the teams faced off again last week.

"I didn't see as many fastballs the second time around," he said. "Some of the other teams throughout the series, I didn't see as many good pitches to hit as I was seeing earlier in the series."

Not that it mattered. Heck still went 7-for-12 in the second three-game series against Florence.

Heck said it has been a nice change to have his family and friends attend games at Consol Energy Park this season. He played locally in high school and during his time with the Dukes, but after Duquesne's baseball program was shut down in 2010, he transferred to Oklahoma State for his senior season.

"You get to have family and friends come out to the games," he said. "It's always nice to have that after being away for a little while."

As a junior at Duquesne, Heck hit .408 and set the school's single-season record for hits. He also pitched 671/3 innings with 44 strikeouts. When news came down that the school was dissolving the baseball program, though, Heck knew he had a tough choice to make.

"You make a lot of good friends, you become close to people. Then they just tell you that you're either going to stay and give up baseball or if you want to play baseball, you're going to have to get up and move altogether," he said. "It was hard."

Fortunately, Heck had a scholarship offer to Oklahoma State thanks to some of the connections he made playing baseball in Kansas during his collegiate summers. He said he liked the appeal of playing in the Big 12, one of the nation's stronger college baseball conferences.

"I didn't go to one of the bigger Division I schools out of high school and I kind of said I wanted to take a shot at it," he said. "I wanted to get the experience."

In one season with the Cowboys, Heck hit .214 with four RBIs in 15 games. On the mound, he compiled a 3-1 record with a 4.74 ERA and 25 strikeouts in eight starts.

Heck said he still wanted to play baseball after his time at Oklahoma State, which led him to the Southern Illinois Miners and, ultimately, back close to home with Washington.

"I'm having a good time," he said. "Trying to go out and have fun. I was looking forward to getting the opportunity to play in Washington, and I'm trying to make the most of it."

So far, mission accomplished.

hsother

Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @SWernerPG First Published July 6, 2012 4:00 AM


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