Tuesday night’s come-from-behind win for Mississippi State over Western Kentucky was sort of the perfect Seth Heck moment.
Heck, MSU’s senior shortstop, has quietly been one of the most consistent performers in world of college baseball since his arrival last spring. The operative words there are quiet and consistent. Heck, in a fitting feat for his laid-back west-coast personality, has done the difficult: he’s become a hero without the headlines.
The bottom of the ninth inning on a rainy Tuesday was an excellent example. Heck’s Bulldogs had jumped out to an early lead in the game, only to see it erode and then disappear completely as the night wore on. WKU had tied it up and then taken a lead by the time their nine innings of batting were finished, holding a 5-4 lead as the top of the ninth concluded.
So when Heck stepped to the plate as the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the ninth, the fate of the game rested on what he and the batters in line behind him were able to do right then, right there. If the team won that night, the Bulldogs were righting a slightly off-course ship just in time for SEC play. If they lost, it was their fourth such disappointment in five games.
All that pressure, and the cool-headed Heck did what he always does – he got on base, a leadoff single. From first, Heck slowly worked his way around the diamond as batters came and went, finally reaching home on the second of two wild pitches. Heck’s hit and Heck’s run scored were the only hit and the only run scored at all in the ninth for MSU, but they were all State needed. He had tied the game and, for the time being, saved the day.
However, the headline on MSU’s website now reads “JOHNNY WALKOFF! HOLLAND COMES THROUGH IN CLUTCH FOR 6-5 WIN”
Yes, the Bulldogs won, and yes, junior infielder John Holland was deserving of all praises and headlines after driving in the game-winning run in the bottom of the tenth inning. And yes, as always, Heck was the Bruce Wayne to someone else’s Batman, doing all the work with none of the glory. He’s the man behind the mask, the one who everyone likes, but never gets the credit. Heck is the hero MSU deserves and needs, but he still doesn’t get his metaphorical name in the sky.
To find quotes from Heck’s head coach about him requires going pretty far back in the archives. Not that John Cohen isn’t proud of his shortstop (he is) or doesn’t think he deserves more attention (he believes that, too), he just isn’t asked about him very often. The only reason Heck was even speaking to media this past weekend was for the purposes of this story.
That’s all fine with Heck, though. If he got more attention, sure, that’d be neat. If no one says another thing about him, he’ll be fine and keep on playing without a worry.
Now, this isn’t to say he’s completely ignored, of course. He was named the SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year last season, and this certainly isn’t the first or last story to be written about him.
Specifically, within his team, his place is known. He was voted team captain for the 2015 season and his production has shown why he’s the only player the coaches have started every single one of MSU’s 18 games this year.
He’s second on the team with a .397 batting average and his 68 at-bats are 13 more than the next closest player. Heck’s 27 hits are tied for seventh in the entire SEC and he’s reached base safely in 47 of his last 48 games dating back to 2014. In that same 2014 season, Heck led all SEC shortstops with a .986 fielding percentage, only committing two errors all season, though he didn’t make the cut for first or second-team All-SEC, appearing only on the all-defensive squad.
In 2015 so far, he’s got nine games with multiple hits, including five of his last six, a stretch where Heck stepped up while his team has struggled. As MSU’s leadoff hitter, he’s batting an incredible .621 when leading off an inning (such as the ninth inning in Tuesday’s game).
“Each at-bat is different in what it calls for,” Heck says. “I’m just trying to go up there with confidence and know that if I put my best swing on it, I’ll be successful.”
To that end, he’s been pretty prosperous.
Heck said he goes to into every appearance with a plan, sometimes based on the pitcher, often based on the situation, though no matter the time, he’s relying on himself and his swing. Or, sometimes, his lack of a swing. He’s been walked 13 times and the six times he’s been hit by a pitch are the second-most such instances for any player in the SEC this season.
Maybe that’s part of it, though. He’s not flashy. He’s not hitting home runs, 25 of his 27 hits are singles and he’s only stolen one base. He doesn’t have many highlight plays at shortstop because he makes it look so easy. But at some point, the numbers are impossible to miss. Whatever style he’s using, he’s getting things done, and MSU is the group who benefits.
That’s why they call Seth Heck ‘The People’s Player.’