Essentially swapping stability for a startup, Taed Heydinger’s baseball career will be taking him from a college boasting just two head coaches since 1961 to another set to return from a five-year absence.
The former Bayfield High standout doesn’t seem nervous, however. A year away from competition allowed him to hone his skills fine enough to relocate and re-emerge in 2019 at a level worth an NCAA Division I look, and ultimately, an offer from the University of Akron.
“I went down to Scottsdale and then after that year I took a gap year and just trained in Phoenix,” Heydinger said Wednesday.
Heydinger initially played for Scottsdale Community College after his time at BHS, where he was utilized mainly as a relief pitcher (16 appearances, 0 starts, 23.1 innings) as a freshman in spring 2017.
“And then after that, I got hooked up with a summer team out in California. So I went out and one of the coaches from Fullerton saw me while I was playing out there and recruited me. I already kind of knew that I wanted to stay in California after that summer and play baseball out there, I just didn’t know where yet, and it worked out perfectly.
“They hit me up and said, ‘We have a place for you,’” he continued. “‘You can come here and play, for sure’ and so I just decided to do that.”
And after anchoring Fullerton College’s staff in 2019, leading the Hornets in strikeouts (68) and tying for most wins (3), University of Akron coach and Chris Sabo, who was part of the 1990 World Series-winning Cincinnati Reds, sold the right-hander with a similar pitch.
“When I went out, I was with my grandparents, they’re actually from Ohio, live out there, and we went out to dinner with Chris after I visited the school and all that kind of stuff,” said Heydinger. “I really liked him; he has a lot of stories and, obviously, lots of knowledge – been around the block, you know? He was an All-Star and knows what he’s talking about.”
“They came out and saw me at a game, then, probably two weeks after I went out there, I decided to commit; it was probably ... the end of May.”
Between his two junior-college stops, Heydinger compiled a 4-8 win-loss record in 32 appearances with 12 starts – all in ’19 with a Fullerton College crew that struggled against not only the California Community College Athletic Association’s vaunted Orange Empire Conference, but the prospect of Hornet icon Nick Fuscardo guiding the team (which finished 10-27 overall and an eighth-place 5-16 in the OEC) for a 33rd and final campaign.
“When I took the gap year to train, that’s when everything really started clicking a little bit more. And then I took that into Fullerton and it worked out really well,” Heydinger said.
“I was the No. 1 guy there, threw a lot of innings – almost eighty I think – and got a lot of work in. Every team we faced had guys committed to Cal State schools or other D-I’s across the country, so it was really good for me to go against that competition. Now I know that I can compete at that level.”
Still on track to meet his personal academic goals – he left Fullerton with an associate’s degree in business – the former Wolverine, whose 2019 strikeout count ranked sixth in the OEC, will depart for Akron shortly before classes begin Aug. 26, then start focusing on helping the Mid-American Conference’s Zips resurface after the program was eliminated in 2015, but was restored last fall. The 2019-2020 season will be the first season of play since being cut.
“I like letting it take me wherever it can take me, you know?” said Heydinger, referring to his baseball ability. “It’s taken me from (Bayfield) to Arizona, to California, and now another place on my adventure. And I love meeting new people, seeing new places, doing things like that.”
GROWTH SPURTHeydinger undoubtedly knew that after graduating BHS, on a college athlete’s training regimen, he’d grow in size. He just didn’t know the Fullerton College website billed him this year at 6 feet, 4 inches and 200 pounds.
“The two hundreds right, but the six-four? You know what? I’m fine with that,” he laughed, perhaps pondering former Wolverine Basketball head coach Jeff Lehnus’ reaction. “Hey, if the roster says it ...”
Then it must be true. Right?
“It’s more like six-two-and-a-half,” he admitted. “But when I go to Akron, I’ll probably be six-three, two-ten; I’m trying to put on, like, 10 more pounds of muscle. I’m going to be doing the same sort of exercises, trying to develop the same way as I was (at Fullerton College). I’m even bigger and stronger now, so they’ll hopefully be even more effective.”