A baseball player worth watching

Author: Jaclyn Villano

Dozens of talented student athletes swarm beneath the Dome, but baseball captain Aaron Heilman, a junior this past year, stands apart. How many other Domers can say they turned down a minor league contract with the New York Yankees to attend Notre Dame?

That’s exactly what Heilman did after being selected by the current world champions in the 54th round of Major League Baseball’s1997 amateur draft. The right-handed pitcher would have accepted the Yankees’ invitation after high school, too, but for a recruiting trip to Notre Dame that caused him to fall in love with the place.

Now pro baseball is after him again. Players are eligible for the draft at ages 18 or 21, and the 21-year-old Heilman — named to five All-America lists in his three years at Notre Dame — was the 31st player taken in the major league amateur draft in June. He was selected by the American Leagues’s Minnesota Twins. If he signs, his plan is to return to ND each fall semester for the next two years to complete his degree in Management Information Systems.

Notre Dame Coach Paul Mainieri predicts Heilman, whose fastball clocks in the 90s, would move “very quickly” through the minors. But it is not Heilman’s baseball ability he will miss the most, the coach says.

“He is the most humble, unselfish player. Most All-Americans will sit on the bench like prima donnas, but he’s out there taking the protective screens off after batting practices . . . coming in on his days off to fix up the pitcher’s mound. . . . [His work ethic] sets a great example for the younger players.”

Heilman says he feels “fairly confident” about making it pro baseball. “I’ve always believed in myself.” That’s not surprising, considering that the native of Logansport, Indiana, 50 miles southwest of South Bend, grew up emulating a Texas baseball great, fastball pitcher Nolan Ryan, whose dedication to the game was legendary.

“He went out there everyday, competed and got the job done,” Heilman says of Ryan. “That’s what I try to do every day, just go out there and get the job done.”

Jaclyn Villano