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Prairie Ridge grad Michael Heesch lives dream with Cougars

Pitcher Michael Heesch, a Prairie Ridge graduate, is in his first season with the Kane County Cougars, the Cubs' Class-A affiliate.
Pitcher Michael Heesch, a Prairie Ridge graduate, is in his first season with the Kane County Cougars, the Cubs' Class-A affiliate.

GENEVA – Michael Heesch tries to savor each moment.

Getting drafted by his favorite team a year ago was a dream come true, and now the Class-A Kane County Cougars pitcher is working his way through the Cubs’ minor league system.

The Prairie Ridge graduate, who was drafted by the Cubs in the eighth round of the 2012 draft out of the University of South Carolina-Beaufort, is in his first season at Kane County after splitting time last year between rookie league in Mesa, Ariz., and Class-A (Short Season) Boise.

“It hit me in spring training a bit realizing what I’m doing,” Heesch said. “It’s good it happened that early, so I can focus on what I need to do to get to the big leagues.”

Heesch already has surpassed the total number of games he appeared in last season at Mesa and Boise. In 16 games (15 starts), the left-hander is 3-7 with a 3.53 ERA. Perhaps more impressive, Heesch, 23, has allowed only one home run in 89 1/3 innings this season, which is also the lone homer he’s given up in his professional career.

“I really haven’t given up too many home runs in my life,” Heesch said. “I say that now and then I’m going to give up a bunch.  But it’s a conscious effort to keep the ball down and to not give them something really to hit. It’s big part of being a starter.”

The Cubs have had him working on mechanics while learning how to pitch in professional baseball. Heesch said it’s completely different pitching in the pros compared to college.

For one, the hitters are much better. Heesch regularly faces each organization’s former first-round draft picks. Plus, the dedication and time invested reaches a new level in pro ball. Heesch spends hours before games, particularly at home, honing his pitches.

Cubs director of player development Brandon Hyde said part of the challenges pitchers such as Heesch face is spending time working on a specific pitch during a start, even if that means allowing a few runs.

Heesch has made sure to approach his professional baseball career with an open mind.

“It’s a different animal,” Heesch said. “You don’t know what to expect.”

Playing in Geneva has advantages for Heesch. One of them has been the bonus of having family, as well as friends from Prairie Ridge, living nearby and offering their support. Another perk: the opportunity to live with his parents, Fred and Terrie, in Bartlett while playing for Kane County instead of staying with a host family like most of his teammates.

“It takes some of the stresses away from living on your own, finding your own food,” Heesch said. “You feel like everyone’s pulling for you. It’s fun to have.

“It’s definitely nice having your family around.”

For now, Heesch isn’t worrying about when he might pitch at Wrigley Field for the Cubs. He’s more focused on trying to improve and taking advantage of the opportunity to be part of the Cubs’ organization.

“You’ve got to think of it as I can only control what I can control,” Heesch said. “If I work on my stuff. it’s going to help the team win. … When it comes down to winning and doing your own personal thing, you’ve got to focus on what I can do to get better.”

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