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Heesch makes Cougars debut

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GENEVA – The last time Michael Heesch pitched in a minor league game, he unsuccessfully pleaded with manager Mark Johnson to let him keep going.

It was in Boise, Idaho last Sept. 9 in the Northwest Class A Short-Season Rookie League championship against Vancouver.

“He told him, ‘We got the championship, it’s over. They can’t hit me,’ ” said Fred Heesch, Michael’s father.

Michael Heesch, who had allowed one hit in 3 1/3 scoreless innings, might have been right. But the Cubs kept him on a strict innings limitation, so he was pulled. Boise lost 12-9.

Heesch was unleashed in his first start for the Kane County Cougars on Sunday and took full advantage of less-stringent limits. Heesch was pulled long before the Quad Cities River Bandits won, 3-1, in 13 innings at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, but his debut was impressive.

The 2008 Prairie Ridge graduate threw 6 1/3 innings, allowed one hit, walked two and struck out five in his first Midwest League game. The lone hit was an RBI double by Jobduan Morales in the fifth inning. Otherwise, the Bandits struggled for good swings off the 6-foot-5 left-hander.

The Cubs usually let Heesch throw no more than two innings in any start last year after his career at NAIA South Carolina-Beaufort was done.

“It felt good to start again and have my game instead of coming in and pitching behind somebody [like at Boise],” Heesch said. “When I went out in the third inning, I thought, ‘What is this weird feeling?’ I thought I threw well. I kept my pitch count down and got ahead of hitters.”

Heesch had only three three-ball counts and threw 54 strikes among his 80 pitches. Johnson said Heesch’s pitch count will be around 80 to 85.

“Every time he threw last year he was absolutely begging me to go more and more and more,” Johnson said. “His innings from college were up there so we were really protective of him. To see him finally go out there and do what he wanted is kind of what I expected … and then a lot more. He’s an ultra-competitive person and it showed today.”

Heesch retired the first 11 batters before he hit No. 3 hitter Chase Davidson in the fourth inning. He walked Terrell Joyce in the fifth and with two outs, Morales lined the first pitch down the right-field line for a double. Only one other Bandit reached base on Heesch.

“He’s a really good pitcher,” Cougars catcher Willson Contreras said. “He did well with the fastball and the slider and he worked down.”

Heesch hardly can believe his fortune in the past 10 months. He was taken by his favorite team in the eighth round of Baseball’s Amateur Draft in June, then saw Kane County switch from a Kansas City Royals affiliate to the Cubs.

On Easter, Fred and Terrie Heesch received a text from their excited son that read: “I’m going to Kane County!”

The Heesches used to live in Crystal Lake, but now live in Bartlett, so Michael lives at home, about 20 minutes from the park.

“Surreal is the word,” Terrie said. “It’s nice for him, it’s a neat opportunity. He’s had great teammates and he’s worked hard. It’s a good example of effort and hard work.

Fred Heesch said Michael had a goal of the Cubs’ advanced Class A team in Daytona, but was thrilled at the chance to play so near home.

“It’s unreal how excited he is,” Fred said. “He deserves it as hard as he’s worked. It’s all him, he gets the credit.”

Fred and Terrie were part of a a group of about 20 fans there for Michael’s first Kane County start. Terrie’s parents, Sam and Marie Girardi, from Chicago, were there to see their grandson.

“It’s pretty cool getting a chance to play here,” said Heesch, who played an integral role on Prairie Ridge's 2008 Class 4A state championship team. “The fact that it’s with the Cubs makes it even better. It’s like being in high school almost. It’s a different house, but the same feeling again.”

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