Heller ready to lead Lord Jeffs
Amherst’s do-everything OF should be selected in MLB Draft
The situation for Amherst had almost everything you could ask for in a baseball game. It was an elimination game of the conference playoffs, with a tie score, with the bases loaded, with two outs and a 3-2 count on the batter. Yet it was still without something. It needed Kevin Heller, the Lord Jeffs' senior outfielder, to do something special.
As if on cue -- or more precisely, as if sitting on a fastball -- Heller came through. He drilled the offering for a grand slam and Amherst never looked back as it went on for the 7-3 victory against Middlebury last season in the NESCAC tournament.
"I just let everything go, let all the outside things go, and focus on the task at hand," Heller said. "In that situation I just wanted to get a run home and I did a little better than that obviously. It's a lot easier to relax when you don't put pressure on yourself, and when you have the confidence of your teammates to get the job done. It worked out pretty well for us. It's a moment in my life I will never forget."
Nor will his team, which has become accustomed to Heller's heroics.
"It's what he does," Amherst coach Brian Hamm said. "Like against Eastern Connecticut and facing their best pitcher and he drives the ball out of the park (for the win). " If there is a pressure situation in the game, we want him to have the opportunity to win us the game. He wants to have a challenging situation in his hands."
Heller's reputation as a big-time player has been established as he is considered the top position player in Division III. He will likely draw attention from Major League Baseball leading up to the MLB Draft in June. Recently, though, reading about a former Amherst player making news in the draft has had to do more with transactions off the field than on it.
Currently Amherst, the oldest collegiate baseball program in the nation, has three former Amherst players in MLB front offices. Dan Duquette, a 1980 grad, is now the Baltimore Orioles' executive vice president of baseball operations. Ben Cherrington ('96) and Neal Huntington ('91) are general managers of the Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates respectively.
"We're fortunate to bring intelligent athletes to the baseball program because of the high standards of our school," Hamm said. "When they arrive on our baseball program, we pride ourselves on being an instructional program and a teaching program.
"That allows our players to not only develop their baseball skills but learn the game as well. They improve their skills and also their baseball knowledge. Just like Kev has. He brings energy to the field every day. The combination of that, and a huge competitive drive, and his athletic ability and baseball skills, make him a multi-dimensional player."
Last season he hit .338 with a team-high 8 home runs and 32 RBI. It was the third season in a row where he has hit at least .330. If he stays healthy, he has a chance to break career records for hits, home runs, runs scored and RBI. In addition to his Baseball America ranking, he was listed as the No. 7 prospect in the Atlantic Collegiate League, where he hit 11 home runs and was named its MVP. Heller is not content with those numbers. He's looking for more from his teammates and himself.
"We've got big expectations," Heller said. "We feel we have the team to win the championship and make the NCAA push. We've got a great lineup and pitching staff. Have the tools to be a very solid team and I think will be tough to beat for anybody.
"It's been an unbelievable experience playing here. And playing at the next level is a lifelong dream. I'm excited at the possibility to do so. My goal right now is to be the best captain I can be, to lead my team the best I can, and to do the most I can to help our team win the NESCAC title because it is going to be competitive."
Competition is second nature the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. He is also a defensive back on Amherst's football team where in eight games he had four interceptions.
"I love competition," Heller said. "I love playing whether it's competition on the turf in football, competing on the diamond or in the classroom. That's what I love to do. I played three sports in high school, so I'm not someone who likes a lot of time off. I like always having something to do. I like having the responsibility to get it done."
"Playing two sports here is a blessing. I couldn't be more thankful for the opportunity. I had plenty of people along the way tell me I'm crazy to play football. I love it, just like I love baseball. It's been an unbelievable experience."