As you likely know by now, Slade Heathcott made his major league debut Wednesday night when he pinch ran for Mark Teixeira in the eighth and then played center. This is not just notable because arguably the Yankees' most important offensive piece, Jacoby Ellsbury, hit the DL, causing the Yankees to call up their first round pick from the 2009 Draft. Hopefully, Heathcott gets an opportunity to pick up his first hit sometime soon, but as we wait for that I thought I'd look back on Heathcott's long road to the Bronx. If you have followed the Yankees' farm system at all the last five or six years, you know the name Slade Heathcott and why I am so excited to see him finally break into the majors. Granted, his stay may be a short one for any number of reasons, but considering how miniscule the percentage of minor league players to ever make an appearance in the majors is, this is no small feat. One that, after initially appearing like almost a sure bet, seemed more and more certain to never occur.
Almost exactly four years ago, the full story of Heathcott's background started to break, only to be followed up with him getting plunked and then ejected from a game after kicking off a benches clearing brawl. I posted about that incident and the ways in which Slade was drawing comparisons with Josh Hamilton, writing, "Hopefully, this story will continue towards a feel-good ending, much like Hamilton’s seems to." Okay, so the latter part of this statement may be far more questionable, but it is really great to see that Heathcott's story has continued to be an inspirational one.
Zachary Slade Heathcott was born on September 28, 1990 in Texarkana, Texas. Heathcott did not have an easy time growing up. Born to a teenaged mother, he was eventually adopted by the man she later married. While they stayed married for seventeen years, it was clearly a tumultuous relationship. When Heathcott was in high school his father spent time in prison and eventually his parents divorced and his mother moved to Louisiana. During this time, Heathcott turned to alcohol, got a DUI, once ended up with a shotgun pointed at his father and broke into a house while drunk. At times during high school, Heathcott stayed on friends' couches or in lived out of his truck.
Despite his chaotic and unstable surroundings, Heathcott continued to excel athletically, garnering just as much attention for his skills on the gridiron as for those on the diamond. Many teams passed on Heathcott, due to his "questionable character" and upbringing, but the Yankees took a chance. At first, it looked like they were going to lose that gamble, as Heathcott's professional career beginnings quickly exposed his alcohol problem. The Yankees dragged him to Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as a mentor, and soon Heathcott seemed to have turned things around. While there are plenty rough stories about Heathcott's high school years, there were plenty of good stories that shed light on the person and player he could be.
With the character issues seemingly dealt with, Heathcott seemed primed for a quick assent to the Bronx. Unfortunately, that is when the injuries struck. He has steadily progressed through the Yankees' farm system, but out of five potentially full seasons he could of played, Heathcott only played in more than 100 games once, when he played 103 in 2013. He followed that by playing in just nine games in 2014. Despite the injuries, Heathcott has a career minors line of .270/.345/.398, but it was beginning to really look like bad luck would end up keeping him from realizing his dream.
This is why it was so exciting to see him show up healthy and ready to play this spring. While Heathcott seemed like a sure thing, given his natural talent on the baseball field, he had many more hurdles to overcome than simply the Sally League, Florida State League, Eastern League and International League. I must admit, I had definitely reached the point where I didn't think this day would ever come for Heathcott, but now that it is here - I really hope this is just the beginning of an incredible story.