By BEAU WICKER
Like many kids raised in Logansport, Aaron Heilman grew up rooting the Chicago Cubs. But unlike any other, Heilman is a Cubs player after the trade on Wednesday sent him from the Seattle Mariners to the Cubs.
“It’s certainly been a dream of mine to be able to play at Wrigley Field as my home field and play for the Cubs,” said Heilman, a 1997 Logansport High School grad. “My first big league game I ever watched was at Wrigley Field. I remember going there as a little kid, and watching them on WGN. I always followed them all the way through. I have a lot of fond memories. Hopefully there’s a lot more to come.”
Heilman, 30, currently resides in Chicago with his wife, Kerri.
“I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to play in the same city I make my home in,” he said. “It certainly makes it extra special to live here and be able to stay at home for the year as opposed to finding an apartment and living out of a suitcase. To be able to play at home and be a part of an organization I grew up rooting for ... it’s gonna be an exciting year.”
It will also be easier for Heilman’s fans in Logansport to follow him as a Cub than it would be if he was a New York Met, his former team, or a Mariner.
“I’ll be a little closer to home,” Heilman said. “I’ve already got a few e-mails from coach [Jim] Turner and coach [Rich] Wild. Everyone has been stopping to see my parents [Joe and Deb] and congratulating them. It’s pretty neat. It’s really exciting and fun for me too. It’s nice to be closer to home.”
The Cubs are planning to give Heilman, a 6-foot-5-inch, 230-pound right-hander, a chance to compete for the fifth starter’s role in spring training. Other candidates for the job include Jeff Samardzija, Chad Gaudin and Sean Marshall. The Cubs’ top four starters include Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden and Ted Lilly. If Heilman does not win the fifth starter’s role in spring training, he could be utilized in the bullpen.
Heilman was a starter at LHS and for most of his college career at Notre Dame. But in the pros, the Mets primarily used him in a reliever role. Heilman feels his best role is as a starter, and he plans to be able to pitch deep into games by the end of spring training.
Cubs pitchers and catchers are set to report to spring training on Feb. 14 in Mesa, Ariz. Heilman said he’s looking forward to it.
“It’s an exciting time for me,” he said. “All you can ask for is a chance to compete and win a job.
“There’s certainly a lot of good pitchers in the organization. It’s exciting to have the opportunity. We’ll see how everything plays out in spring training.”
Heilman is particularly looking forward to calling Wrigley Field “home.”
“It’s definitely a unique place,” he said. “Wrigley is one of the few old-time ballparks left like Fenway. It’s just about baseball, not jumbotrons and some of the other stuff. It’s hot dogs, beer and baseball, and the old mechanical scoreboard. It’s special and the fans appreciate that. There’s certainly a very loyal fanbase and they very much want to have a winning team. Hopefully we can give that to them.”
Heilman said his favorite Cubs growing up were actually offensive stars — Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg.
“There’s always somebody every year that stands out and has a good year,” he said. “For me growing up watching those guys play, it’s exciting to know the history and the great players who went through. To be able to play at Wrigley on the same surface is pretty special.”
The Cubs have won back-to-back NL Central titles and look to be the favorites again this season.
“I’ve been part of great teams on paper before, and at the end of the day you still have to go out and perform and get the job done,” Heilman said. “I think we’ll have a competitive team and it’ll be a fun year. How well we do is up to us staying healthy and going out on the field and performing. I think we have a chance of having a great year.
“I’m looking forward to a tremendous experience of having a lot of fun being on a contending ballclub. Hopefully we’ll have a good year and I can help the ballclub win a bunch of games this year.”