Michael Heesch, a former standout at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort, didn't expect an award. He didn't even know there was one. He was just doing what he thought was right.
The accolades came anyway, as Heesch was one of two players named Community Players of the Year by the Boise Hawks, the Short-Season Class-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.
A native of suburban Chicago, Heesch was drafted by the Cubs in the eighth round of June's Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and quickly signed with his hometown team.
Shortly after joining the Hawks on July 1, Heesch became one of the go-to guys for all sorts of community outreach events. These ranged from socializing with fans at the local Red Robin restaurant to help raise money for the team's charity, to visiting with patients at St. Luke's Children's Hospital, to taking the lead in the Reading Tree events before every Tuesday home game.
"It's great to be recognized and know that people appreciate the things we do, but that's not what it's about," Heesch said. "It's so much fun to do things like that and see how much people enjoy it. It's a big deal to them, and that makes you feel good."
Heesch and teammate Eddie Orozco were selected for the honor because their willingness and eagerness to make public appearances, always offering to sign autographs and their regular participation in the KeyBank Reading Tree events, among other community outreach opportunities, said Hawks media relations assistant Courtney Garner, who selected the winners.
"Not only were they willing to make the appearance, but they did it with smiles on their face and positive attitudes," Garner wrote in her blog. "It was always apparent that they wanted to be working with the children and talking with fans."
In two seasons at USCB, Heesch become known as much for his sense of humor and pleasant demeanor as his pitching - though he did compile a 14-8 record, a 2.81 ERA and 196 strikeouts for the Sand Sharks. In his senior campaign, he went 9-3 with a 2.21 ERA and a school-record 118 strikeouts. He also earned Sun Conference Pitcher of the Year and second-team NAIA All-America honors, as he helped the Sand Sharks win a school-record 41 games and advance to the Avista-NAIA World Series.
Heesch has done well at the next level too. In 12 relief appearances for the Hawks, he is 3-1 with a 2.66 ERA and has compiled 19 strikeouts and only one walk in 23 2/3 innings, helping the Hawks reach the Northwest League East Divisional Series.