The Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees have a rivalry going back many years, with fans on both sides passionate about the team they support. That can all change suddenly in the rare instances when those fans are also players and get an opportunity to suit up for the rival. A recent example of this is Red Sox minor league prospect Kevin Heller, who gave up his stripes when he was drafted by Boston, with whom he is now doing everything he can to reach the majors.
The right-handed hitting Heller was drafted by Boston in the 40th round earlier this summer after having a stellar career with Amherst College. He left as the school’s all-time leader in hits (172), RBI (126), and tied for the top mark with 18 home runs. He was viewed as a polished college player and known for making contact; all desirable traits of a successful prospect.
After signing with the Red Sox, Heller was sent to the low minors to start his professional career. He got into a total of 19 games between the GCL affiliate and the Lowell Spinners, hitting a combined .290 with 2 home runs and 5 RBI. More information on his statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=heller000kev.
In 2013 Heller will be given a chance to prove himself with a full-season team and see if he can make progress through the franchise’s sea of prospects. It’s no longer about draft position, it’s about talent and determination, and Heller has both in spades, so don’t be surprised to hear his name come up next season.
Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: As a kid I was always fascinated by Roberto Clemente. Never getting to see him play, I viewed him as a legend and a hero- not only because of the tremendous player he was (3000 hits and the tremendous arm strength) but because of the incredible human being he was assisting others less fortunate then he until his last day. As a New Yorker, I of course grew up loving Derek Jeter. The ultimate professional plays hard every day and is a true team leader.
How did you know that the Red Sox were interested in you?: I had received letters in the offseason and talked to individuals in the front office. Going to school in Massachusetts, I can assure you tons of friends and professors were hoping if I got a chance it would be with Boston. Also, with an Amherst alum as the GM, and more in the front office, I had heard what a tremendous organization it was to play for.
Can you describe what your draft day experience was like?: Low key ... Spent the day in the house with my family. Knew if it happened it would be day 3, but did think it would be around 20-30, so when it got later it did become a little nerve wracking. I actually left my house to go for a run just to get away and relax. Upon returning my family all traveled to different rooms and when it finally happened it was the best feeling and more then worth the wait. More family and friends and teammates rushed over to my house to celebrate and I couldn't be more thankful for all their support.
Having grown up a Yankees fan, what thoughts ran through your mind when you were drafted by Boston?: I laughed a little thinking back to all the years rooting against Boston. My dad quickly said ‘How am I going to wear a Red Sox hat?’ But I couldn't be happier with the team and I'm the biggest Sox fan after that day.
Besides the travel, what was the most difficult thing to become accustomed to during your first professional season?: Talent level. Facing the best of the best every day is difficult, but it's what I live for. You can never let your guard down because everyone you compete against is so talented. It’s an honor to play with and against these guys and I'm confident with my ability to perform at the highest level with and against them.
You were the MVP of the 2011 wooden bat Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League... How difficult was it to adjust to wood bats?: I love it - it simply feels like a purer form of baseball. The bigger adjustment was the tremendous talent in the ACBL. I was blessed with the opportunity to play every day and I really got in a rhythm swinging. I love hitting with wood, in fact, I believe I even prefer it. My dad always said good hitters can hit with anything you put in their hand; a quote I always loved.
Not being a higher draft pick, what drives you to compete with and against other prospects who may be more well known?: Boston gave me a chance that's all I can ask for. The key is I'm here playing on the same field and in the same lineup as the top draft picks in the world. My goal now is to be the hardest worker day in and day out and not worry about the things that are out of my control, like what round people were drafted in. I'm confident I can play with anyone out there and as long as I hold on to that I believe I'll find a way to succeed. It's not what round you were drafted in but what you do with the opportunity. I'm just thankful to Boston for giving me a chance and I intend to make the most of it.
What are you looking forward to as you prepare for your first professional spring training?: Getting a full season in, seeing my teammates and coaching staff again, and soaking in as much information from coaches and professionals as I possibly can. I can't wait to compete on the diamond again and drive for a championship on whatever team they decide is right for me and represent the Red Sox organization to the best of my ability.
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