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Butler County's great daily newspaper

Trip to California 'in the cards'

Freeport graduate Jarrett Heilman is off to a solid start pitching in the Power Summer Collegiate League in Palm Springs, Calif.
Freeport graduate Heilman pitching well in Palm Springs

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Jarrett Heilman owes a lot of his success this summer to Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

The Toronto Blue Jays' slugger helped Heilman, a Freeport graduate and incoming sophomore at Mercyhurst University, get to California to play in the Power Summer Collegiate League.

Well, sort of.

Heilman is a big baseball and sports card collector and one of his crown jewels was a rare Vlad Jr. rookie card.

He sold it for $1,250 to fund his baseball summer in Palm Springs.

“I didn't want to get rid of it,” Heilman said. “(But) I had to give up something I love to play the game I love. It was worth it.”

Heilman also sold another Guerrero Jr. card for $250.

Heilman has plenty more gems in his sports card collection.

The right-handed pitcher has thrown a few gems, too, this summer for the Lumberjacks in the Power league, which is made up of 14 teams.

Heilman's fastball has topped out at 93 mph this summer. He's also still throwing his usual assortment of secondary pitches: a curveball, changeup, split-finger — and his favorite — his trusty slider.

But Heilman's focus in Palm Springs has been on his fastball — and a vastly different approach to pitching for the 6-foot-2 hurler.

“I kind of always saw myself as a thrower and I'm trying to be a pitcher,” Heilman said. “I've always been a big fan of that slider, but I've changed the way I've thought about the game. I've basically been told by catchers and coaches to live and die by the fastball. So, that's interesting. Now I can see what they are saying.”

Instead of basing everything he throws off his slider, Heilman is learning to set up his pitches off the fastball.

It's a work in progress, but Heilman is pleased with how his summer has gone in the league.

He's won all three of the starts he's made and is striking out around 15 per nine innings.

His stuff is as good as ever.

While at Freeport, Heilman was virtually untouchable.

He finished his junior year 9-2 with a 0.67 ERA. He struck out 107 and walked just seven in 73 innings.

His senior season with the Yellowjackets was wiped out because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a freshman at Mercyhurst, COVID also limited him to just two appearances, but he made the most of them. He struck out eight in 3 2/3 innings for the Lakers.

“It was a short year,” Heilman said. “I have a good relationship with the coaches and they let me know what was happening the whole way through. There wasn't much of a sample size, but I'm pretty happy with where they have me. They have definitely lived up to the pitching reputation they have.”

That's what made this summer even more important for Heilman in California.

“I'm one of the youngest guys in the league,” Heilman said. “I'm mainly just taking it as a learning experience. The success is just a little bit of icing on the cake.”

Heilman has been a sponge, gleaning as much as he can from the older players in the league. They've all been helpful, he said.

“They've given me some of the drills they do and the stretches and their pregame routines,” Heilman said. “I've tried to mimic them. I can see the method to their madness.”

Heilman has also had to adjust to some unique starting times because of the intense heat.

Most of the games are played around 8 a.m. to avoid the sweltering conditions. Temperatures can reach 115 degrees by early afternoon.

“Then the wind comes around and you feel like you've just opened an oven,” Heilman said. “But I really can't complain. It takes like two tosses and a light jog to get warmed up.”

Heilman has also had to learn how to be on his own.

With his Vlad Jr. money.

He shares a hotel room with three teammates. Other than lodging, Heilman is responsible for all other expenses.

“That was another thing I was kind of scared about,” Heilman said. “Actually, I kind of like it now. You're responsible for waking up early, making sure you eat right, have good, quality meals — you don't have that dining hall to go to. It's kind of a step into the real world. So, it's fun.”