By Ian Heisel
(Editor's Note: Ian Heisel was a minor league pitcher in the Pirates organization for two years before joining Independent League Washington Wild Things for two seasons. Ian has agreed to share his story as a minor league ballplayer with us here at The Platoon Advantage. The first installment of his story, in which he describes being signed by the Pirates, is here. Today, he discusses the whirlwind his life became after signing with Pittsburgh and heading down to Bradenton for Extended Spring Training.)
After all the excitement I had with my family in PNC Park when I signed my contract, it was time to get down to business. Merk, the scout I signed with, told me that I fly down to Bradenton, Florida in a few days to get my physical done early and get started before the other draft picks. Some kids have all summer to get what they needed to go away for college. I had just 4 days to clear out my room at college, get my car fixed because my engine blew up, pack, and say goodbye to my parents!
The Pirates gave me a packet explaining what I needed to bring to Training Camp. The packet also included my plane ticket. I already had most of the stuff but I still needed to pick up a few things, like a blazer or a jacket. I didn’t even own a suit! So my parents took me shopping, buying me a new coat and luggage for my trip. I packed some clothes, a toiletry bag, and my baseball stuff. Thank God for my parents because there was no way that I could have afforded all of this stuff myself!
I was leaving on Friday morning, so I called some of my teammates and friends from college and we had a small going-away party at my parents’ house. It was weird because not 5 minutes from my parents’ house was PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates! In a few years I could be playing there. It was a realllllllllly long night with my friends and family. The party might have gone a little too long, but at 7:25 the next morning I was on a flight for the first time in my life!
My parents took me to the airport and I said my goodbyes. It was early and I had no clue what I was getting myself into at the airport. I was 23 but felt like a lost child. Where was my gate? What train did I have to take? Don’t worry I didn’t get lost! I eventually found my way onto the correct plane and was put in coach, no first class stuff for an undrafted free agent. I finally had time to collect my thoughts on the plane. I refused to look out the window because I was a little scared, so I kept reminding myself to get ready for the biggest thing that has ever happened to me.
I arrived in Bradenton in the afternoon. All I knew was someone from the Pirates was going to pick me up. I had no clue who he would be. As I was waiting for my luggage someone tapped me on my shoulder ”You have to be Ian. My name is Jason and I am here to pick you up and take you to the hotel.” Hotel? Nobody had mentioned that Pirate City had been condemned because of a mold infestation and players were forced to stayat a Comfort Inn. And that wasn’t even the worst news I got that day, as I found out after checking in that I had left my cell phone and toiletry bag at my parents house. Thank God for overnight delivery.
Jason began to tell me what the plan was for me when I arrived and told me to be prepared for what I was about to get myself into. Technically, I was the first draft pick to sign from the 2005 draft and I was coming into extended spring training, whichwas a mix of old draft picks, injured guys, and Latin players, lots of them. I was the new guy again just like my freshman year of college and I was nervous. The difference was I was no longer trying to take some upperclassman’s spot but I was trying to take someone’s livelihood away from them.
Jason helped check me into my room and told me, “I’m sorry. We are working on trying to find you another roommate.” I asked why and Jason told me, “he doesn’t speak English.” He gave me my room key and I was left with my new roommate Angel Guzman, who didn’t understand a word of English! Unable to communicate with my roommate, without my cell phone to call home or even a toothbrush, and trying to take away someone else’s dream of playing Major League ball, I was alone. And I was starting to see what Professional Baseball was all about!