Monday, August 22, 2011
#659) AARON HEILMAN
Aaron Heilman was selected by the New York Mets in the first round (18th overall selection) of the free agent draft on June 5, 2001. The senior from Notre Dame University had passed on joining the Minnesota Twins at the 31st pick the previous year. "I felt that the decision at that time was the best one for me to go back and finish my education," said Heilman, who earned degrees in management and information science and philosphy. "I felt confident in my decision then and I knew it would work out."
The righthander worked his way through the farm system, and made his major-league debut in a New York Mets uniform on June 26, 2003 at Shea Stadium. "It's great to be able to have my first start at Shea," offered Heilman before the game. "That's where I'd want to have it if it could be anywhere." Aaron suffered the loss even though he pitched well against the Florida Marlins. The rookie went six innings, but allowed five runs—although only one was earned—during a 6-1 defeat. The Mets would commit four errors in the contest.
For that first season he would be given 13 starts, and finish with 65.1 innings, a 2-7 record, and 6.75 ERA. Certainly not strong enough to keep him from a return to Triple-A Norfolk to begin the 2004 campaign. It was not until August that he would receive a trip back to New York. In five games for the Mets he was 1-3 with a 5.46 ERA to close the year.
Following continued struggles in the starting rotation the Mets chose to move Heilman to the bullpen on May 15, 2005. It proved to become a very successful decision, as Aaron excelled in his new role. Posting a 2.18 ERA in 48 relief appearances. The performance influenced Mets manager, Willie Randolph to select Brian Bannister as the final member of the starting rotation in spring training 2006. Heilman was now too valuable a reliever.
The Mets would win the 2006 National League Eastern Division with Heilman serving as the transition to closer Billy Wagner. The often used reliever entered a team-leading 74 games during the season and finished with a 4-5 record and 3.62 ERA. Unfortunately his success that year was overshadowed by one pitch in the seventh game of the 2006 NLCS. Aaron surrendered a tie-breaking two-run home run to the Yadier Molina of the Cardinals. The blast allowed St. Louis to eventually win the game 3-1 as New York failed to score in the bottom of the ninth. "I just left it up," Heilman explained. "I was trying to throw it down and away. Instead it stayed right over the middle of the plate." The loss prevented the Mets from advancing to the World Series.
Aaron was back in the bullpen for the 2007 season despite continued desires to reenter the starting rotation. He logged 81 appearances to lead the team. The result was another solid year with a 7-7 record and 3.03 ERA. Unfortunately the club would collectively falter to end the season in disappointing fashion.
Along the way Heilman became the target of many Mets fans ire at Shea Stadium. He was often booed during poor performances. It reached a new low on Opening Day of 2008. The hometown fans booed Heilman and fellow reliever, Scott Schoeneweis during pregame introductions. "How many guys get booed on Opening Day before they even take the field?" Schoeneweis questioned.
Heilman struggled during the final season of Shea Stadium. He entered 78 games, but was hit with a 3-8 record and high 5.21 ERA. The Mets would duplicate their late season collapse and fall short to the Philadelphia Phillies in the final days of the ballpark. Aaron was traded by the New York Mets along with Endy Chavez, Joe Smith, Jason Vargas, Mike Carp, Ezequiel Carrera, and Maikel Cieto to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for J.J. Putz, Sean Green, and Jeremy Reed on December 11, 2008.
"Sometimes a fresh start is good," Heilman said. "I definitiely didn't feel like I wanted to leave New York because of anything hanging over or anything like that. I was looking forward to going back out there this year and showing what I can do. I didn't have a good year. It's disappointing to leave on those terms and not get a chance to redeem yourself and go back out there, and prove that it was just one of those blips on the radar."
Aaron Heilman signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to the Chicago Cubs on September 17, 2009.