AMHERST, Mass. – Kevin Heller has been a fan of the New York Yankees for as long as he can remember, but he's going to have to get used to wearing a Red Sox hat.
On Wednesday afternoon, as the third and final day of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft wound down, Heller sat in his bedroom with his laptop open and the door closed. He had been following the draft with his family, but by the 37th round everyone had scattered throughout the house.
With the Boston Red Sox about to announce their final selection of the week and Heller waiting for the Draft Ticker to refresh, he heard his dad—who was still listening to the draft online—let out a yell in another room.
At that moment, Heller knew he was the newest member of the Red Sox organization.
Heller's name was called in the 40th and final round as one of 12 Division III players—and the only DIII player from a New England institution—picked in this year's draft. Since the MLB First-Year Player Draft debuted in 1965, 14 Amherst College student-athletes have been selected. Aside from Heller, only Hugh Quattlebaum '00 has been drafted since 1985.
"This is a dream come true," Heller said shortly after hearing the good news. "This is the happiest I've been in a long time. I don't know if I've ever been this happy."
Wednesday marked yet another impressive milestone for the Amherst College baseball program, which currently has three alumni serving as General Managers of MLB teams and several others working in professional baseball in another capacity.
It's fitting, then, that Heller was selected by the Red Sox, whose GM is fellow Amherst alumnus Ben Cherington '96.
But the Amherst connections don't stop there. Making the official announcement on Wednesday's teleconference and calling Heller shortly thereafter was former Amherst outfielder Jared Banner '07, Amateur Scouting Coordinator for the Red Sox. Banner and Heller both attended Poly Prep Country Day School prior to Amherst. "I've been following Jared's footsteps for the last 10 years or so," Heller said. "To have him call was really special."
"I am extremely proud of Kevin," said Amherst baseball head coach Brian Hamm. "He worked hard to make himself, his teammates and our program better, and I cannot think of a better organization for Kevin to join than the Boston Red Sox. They have a strong reputation for the strength of their player development, and I look forward to watching Kevin grow within their organization."
Last month Heller graduated from Amherst as the baseball program's all-time leader in hits (172), runs scored (136), RBIs (126) and total bases (275), also sharing the career home run record (18). He was 41-for-45 on stolen base attempts during his four years as an outfielder and designated hitter, and he is one of only two players in program history to record four consecutive 40-hit seasons.
A three-time All-NESCAC selection and the conference's Rookie of the Year honoree in 2009, Heller was among Amherst's leaders this past season in batting average (.374), slugging percentage (.523), on-base percentage (.474), runs scored (28), doubles (13) and RBIs (26). He enjoyed a 12-game hitting streak in April and played a major role during a dominant 12-1 stretch for the Lord Jeffs, as he led the team in hitting (.422), slugging (.578), runs (17) and on-base percentage (.509) from Mar. 30 to Apr. 20.
Heller has already proven he can succeed in wooden-bat leagues, as he was named the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League's MVP last summer, an incredible accomplishment for a Division III player. He hit .319 while playing center field for the Westhampton Aviators, setting a league record with 11 home runs en route to an appearance in the ACBL championship game. Heller also led the league in slugging (.645) and runs (31) while finishing among the top-five in hits (45), doubles (11) and RBIs (30).
"Kevin is one example of the many student-athletes at Amherst who excel at the highest level in their sport," added Hamm. "Amherst has produced many professional baseball players and front office personnel, and I am proud that Kevin will continue this legacy. He leaves Amherst and our program a better place."
Banner called Heller shortly after the draft, telling him to stay sharp by taking swings and getting reps in the outfield. The Red Sox will touch base again next week, at which point Heller will likely be sent to Florida to begin competing for a roster spot in the Rookie leagues.
For now, Heller will celebrate with family members and former Amherst teammates who made the trip to Brooklyn to share the experience. "This is a great moment for my family," said Heller. "I never thought I'd say this, but I'm probably the biggest Red Sox fan in the world right now."
|2012||Kevin Heller '12||CF||June Amateur||Boston Red Sox||40||1,231|
|2000||Hugh Quattlebaum '00||3B||June Amateur||Detroit Tigers||25||738|
|1984||Kyle O'Brien '84||3B||June Amateur||Atlanta Braves||31||735|
|1982||David McCarthy '82||P||June Amateur||Cleveland Indians||19||481|
|1982||Michael Lavery '82||C||June Amateur||Toronto Blue Jays||26||646|
|1981||John Cerutti '82||P||June Amateur||Toronto Blue Jays||1||21|
|1980||Rich Thompson '80||P||June Amateur||Cleveland Indians||8||192|
|1978||Bill Swiacki '78||P||June Amateur||Los Angeles Dodgers||8||203|
|1977||Bill Swiacki '78||P||June Amateur||Boston Red Sox||11||273|
|1975||Mark Woodbrey '75||2B||June Amateur||San Francisco Giants||14||320|
|1973||Donnelly Douglas '73||P||January Secondary||Texas Rangers||4||67|
|1972||Donnelly Douglas '73||P||June Amateur||Texas Rangers||17||388|
|1971||Richard Bedard '71||IF||June Amateur||Pittsburgh Pirates||18||428|
|1971||Robert Jones '71||OF||January Secondary||Pittsburgh Pirates||1||1|
|1970||Barry Roderick '71||SS||June Amateur||Minnesota Twins||32||729|
|1970||Robert Jones '71||OF||June Secondary||Atlanta Braves||2||37|
|1968||David Cichon '70||C||June Secondary||St. Louis Cardinals||5||99|