Posted at 10:16 AM on September 30, 2005
by David Zingler
Despite hitting .304 at Triple A Rochester and being named the team’s MVP in a fan poll, Chris Hientz had little hope of receiving a long awaited big league call-up. The reason – red tape, “I wasn’t on the 40 man (roster) this year, that’s why (the call-up) was a surprise to me,” the 31-year-old explained. “I know how difficult that can be if you’re not on the 40 man (roster)...(because) someone has to be taken off...it was a surprise to get the call-up, that’s for sure.”
Although it was the culmination of a life-long dream, Heintz’s big break was somewhat bittersweet. “I was at the hospital, my son had just been born...I was there with my wife and son and got the call,” he said. “It was actually tough leaving, any other time I would have been excited to get on the plane...It was tough to leave my wife and newborn son, that’s for sure, but it was worth it.”
Heintz’s journey to the big leagues began in 1996 when he was the White Sox 19th round pick after a standout career at South Florida University. He remained in the Sox’ minor league system until 2001, when he was released after a sub par, injury-riddled season. At age 27, with only five games at the Triple A level under his belt, his career was at a crossroads.
“My lowest point was probably my last year with the White Sox (organization),” the Florida native commented. “I hardly played at all and they ended up releasing me after the year was over. So, I think that was my lowest point because I basically had to call the teams myself and find a job.”
Fortunately for Heintz, the Cardinals answered the phone and assigned him to their Double A affiliate in New Haven, CT. A free agent following the season, he was signed by Pittsburgh and spent the 2003 season at Double A Altoona. After one season there, the journeyman catcher inked a deal with the Twins. In 2004, Heintz finally made the jump to Triple A and played well, but because he was not on the before-mentioned 40 man roster, he did not receive a call up when Joe Mauer was shelved or in September.
It was during that time that he considered giving up the game. “Definitely, definitely,” Heintz answered when asked if he had pondered retirement. “The last few years, every time I went home, my wife and I have talked it over to see what direction we wanted to go in. So, I would say the last couple years, it has definitely crossed my mind.”
Armed with an Economics degree, there were more stable and potentially lucrative opportunities available, “There were definitely (discussions like), ‘Maybe you should stay home and quit going to play in some remote part of the country away from family,’” the former Academic All American explained. “That was definitely part of it because I did have my degree and could have done something else. Every time I would think about that, I would get an opportunity to play and decided to keep playing.”
On September 11, Heintz’s perseverance finally paid off. A late edition to the line-up after Mike Redmond was scratched with a foot injury, the career minor leaguer made his first big league start in Cleveland, on national television nonetheless. That night, he collected his long-awaited first big league hit. “It was great just to get up here and get into the record books permanently - I played, I got my hit,” he said of the milestone. “It just made everyday down in the minors worth it.”
"(Because the game was on ESPN 2), a lot of people that I hadn’t spoken to in quite awhile got to see me, so that was neat,” the rookie continued. “A lot of them didn’t know that I was in the big leagues at the time.”
Despite the memorable month, Heintz’s future remains as uncertain as ever, “If they keep me on the 40 man (roster), I will be here,” he pointed out. “If they take me off, I’ll be a free agent and see what happens all over again.”