Just months after being released by the Miami Marlins, catcher Tyler Heineman had a memorable season-opening debut with his new team, the San Francisco Giants, last Thursday through Sunday.
Heineman, 29, who grew up in Pacific Palisades, caught three of the four games against the Los Angeles Dodgers and went 4 for 9 at the plate (a .444 average), with two runs scored and even a stolen base.
Local sports fans likely noticed the photo in the L.A. Times sports section on Monday, showing Heineman sliding safely into second.
Last season, after eight seasons in the minor leagues, Heineman was called up by Miami and made his Major League debut on September 4. He started three games and was 3 for 11 at the plate with one homerun.
The switch hitter now has a MLB career batting average of .350, and hopes to maintain that pace when the Giants host the San Diego Padres in a three-game series starting Tuesday.
Heineman signed as a free agent with the Giants in January as a potential backup to Buster Posey, one of the best catchers in the game the last 10 years, who had three World Series rings and six All-Star Game appearances.
Then on July 10, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Posey announced that he would sit out the season after he and his wife adopted twin girls who were born prematurely.
The Giants still had five catchers in training camp, including Heineman and 23-year-old Joey Bart, who was the second overall pick in the 2018 draft and is viewed as Posey’s eventual successor.
Yet when the season began, veteran Heineman became the first Giant other than Posey to start at catcher on opening since 2010.
Mercury News sportswriter Kerry Crowley praised the way Heineman worked with starting pitcher Johnny Cuerto, noting that “Cuerto’s shimmies can destroy a hitter’s timing, but his catcher had no trouble adjusting.”
Said Heineman after the game, “He [Cuerto] has such a great feel for the game, when he wants to pause longer, when he wants to go quickly. It’s an honor, it’s a lot fun just getting behind him.”
In the second game of the series, former minor league free agent Rob Brantly was the catcher for San Francisco. Bart has been assigned to the Giants’ development team.
Heineman, who played for UCLA and was drafted in the eighth round by Houston in 2012, played for far-flung teams in Lancaster, Corpus Christi, Helena, Colorado Springs, Biloxi, Reno and finally New Orleans. Last July, when his team (the Baby Cakes) played the Nashville Sounders, Heineman played against his younger brother Scott, who is now an outfielder/first baseman with the Texas Rangers. He has yet to play this season.
When Tyler Heineman joined Miami last September, his first major league hit was a pinch-double off New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom (the 2018 Cy Young winner). The next day Heineman slugged his first home run, a two-run shot off Zach Wheeler.
Heineman, now 5-11, 205 pounds, was a super athlete as a child. While playing baseball in the Santa Monica Little League, he also made a traveling hockey team when he was eight.
By the time he entered Windward High School, he was still playing baseball, but he was also a goalie on the Junior Kings.
His father, Steve, told him, “You’re good, but if you want to play a sport in college, you should pick.”
For Tyler, it was all about playing time, so he decided, “I’m just going to do baseball.”
He started catching in seventh grade because the coach said, “We need a catcher, does anyone want to try it?”
“I can do that,” said Heineman, who capitalized on the hand-eye skills he acquired as a goalie–tracking a fast-moving puck is much like tracking a fast-moving baseball.
When Circling the News interviewed Heineman last fall, he was asked about playing in the major leagues, and said, “It’s how bad you want it. People who are good have talent, but the work ethic is the key thing. I try to soak up as much information as possible and it gets me better and better, each day, week, month. I don’t want anything to deter me from my training.”
That seems to be working just fine for Heineman, and hopefully for his brother as well.