DETROIT — As any good father would, Rick Heasley just wanted his son to succeed.
Rick didn’t wish for a no-hitter or a pile of strikeouts on Saturday; he just wanted his son, Royals righty Jon Heasley, to be able to walk off the mound with his head held high. Rick’s morning text to Jon that day contained just two simple prayers: one for good command and another for an extended outing.
As Jon Heasley took the hill at Comerica Park against the Tigers that evening, Rick fidgeted in the stands with equal parts excitement and nervousness. A crew of six friends and family from around the country gathered around him to share both the high hopes and the jitters.
“When I texted him last week, I said, ‘Listen. You’re still throwing from 60 feet, 6 inches, the bases are still 90 feet apart,’” Rick Heasley said. “‘Everything’s the same, you’re just in a bigger setting. Just do what you do and don’t worry about the other stuff.’”
It was clear from the beginning of the younger Heasley’s outing that his second career MLB start would be much different from his first. While the Royals eventually dropped a 5-1 game to the Tigers, the defeat took nothing away from the 24-year-old rookie’s sparkling night.
“I thought he was terrific,” Kansas City manager Mike Matheny said. “He had everything. Located everything right out of the gate and made tough pitches. He made a number of 3-2 changeups, behind in the count, breaking balls … he had everything going today. It was a great, great outing for him.”
The Heasley clan gathered from around the country to watch Jon take the mound in Detroit, with father Rick and Uncle Tommy and Aunt Kim Hitchcock hailing from Frisco, Texas; Uncle Joe and Aunt Karen Coffey traveling from Hudson, Ohio; older brother, David, flying in from Littleton, Colo.; and Rick’s old college roommate, Rick Burby, making the commute from Westerville, Ohio.
Jon Heasley made sure each mile they traveled was worth it, allowing just three hits across 5 1/3 scoreless innings. While the Royals’ staff was impressed with Heasley’s stuff during his MLB debut on Sept. 17 against the Mariners, there was still clearly work to be done based on his four-run, four-inning line.
Most were hoping the lack of effectiveness was merely due to first-game nerves, and Heasley showed a different side during Round 2 when, despite issuing a pair of walks, he was tested relatively little.
“We had a good plan going in,” Heasley said. “Felt like I attacked the zone and got some outs on quality pitches. I got some big help defensively from Nicky [Lopez]; couple of really good plays out there. Overall, I felt really good about the outing and was happy to get back out there again.”
Heasley sat down the Tigers in order to start the game, before allowing a grounder up the middle to future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera in the second. He followed that up with this first strikeout of the game, then coaxed Harold Castro into an inning-ending double play so sharp it brought Heasley’s brother, David, to his feet with an enthusiastic cheer.
Heasley’s biggest battle — his only one, really — came in the fifth, when Castro raked a one-out ground-rule double to the corner in left field. Heasley responded by coaxing the next batter, Isaac Paredes, into a mile-high popout before trotting out a nasty curveball that had Dustin Garneau badly swinging into a quick 0-2 count before he lined out harmlessly to left to end the frame.
“Heasley’s awesome,” said right fielder Hunter Dozier, who plated Kansas City’s lone run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth. “His past two starts — his only two starts — he’s looked really good. I’m a big fan of him on the mound.”
After coaching his son’s baseball teams from nearly the time Jon could walk, Rick Heasley was understandably emotional when looking out toward the man on the hill and reflecting on his journey. Rick’s morning text prayers had been answered and then some, and now there was nothing left to do but celebrate, complete with a group photo on the field following the final out.
The Heasley crew will do their best to be at Jon’s final start of the season, too, but either way, Rick Heasley will make time for another morning-of message to his son.
Jon Heasley wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Every day that I’m on the mound starting, I’m just waiting for that text,” he said. “It’s kind of something I look forward to every time. Same thing with my mom; she’s always shooting me a ‘good luck’ text as well.
“Just having both of them, and knowing I have their support no matter what happens on the field, they’re going to be there for me regardless, just having that relationship and having them as a foundation, I’m very thankful for that, and blessed to have them as parents.”