The Knights’ Randy Reid admits it was a little bit different pitching to the Feildians’ Heather Healey in Wednesday night’s St. John’s Molson Intermediate Baseball League game. The big left-hander didn’t want to take the chance of pitching inside and potentially beaning Healey.
“I kind of worry about hitting anybody,” Reid admitted. “Sometimes balls slip. We’re still in intermediate, so we don’t really have perfect control.
“You don’t want to pitch her inside, tail off and hit her. It looks bad on you. I just tried to stay away from it.”
After Healey ended up connecting on a pitch over the outside half of the plate for a single into shallow right field, chances are next time Reid has to pitch to her, he’ll deliver inside.
Healey is the first female player ever drafted into and to play in the St. John’s intermediate/junior baseball circuit, and she isn’t just gaining the respect of her peers for her prowess at the plate. The 17-year-old from Paradise is also a solid fielder and has a strong right arm that sees her among Feildians’ starting pitchers.
“The talk around the league about her is all positive,” says Reid. “She’s a great pitcher and she strikes guys out all the time.”
Healey’s been playing baseball since she was five, and it didn’t take long in the mosquito ranks for her coach at the time to notice her arm strength and accuracy. He suggested she pitch an inning.
“The first time I ever pitched, I struck out all three batters,” Healey recounts. “I loved it, so I just stuck with it.”
These days, Healey has three pitches in her repertoire — a slider, a curve and a fastball that she had clocked at 72 miles per hour at a Team Canada women’s camp in Cuba earlier this year. That camp was her second such time following an appearance in 2013.
Feildians’ coach Brad Roche lauds Healey’s technical ability from the rubber, suggesting only that she needs to learn to “hide the ball maybe a little better.”
“Her slider is nice, but anybody who can locate a fastball, that’s always going to be your most used pitch. If she can keep that and get ahead in the count, it’s always going to be effective for her.”
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It helps that Healey has one of the most experienced catchers in the province behind the plate. Future Hall of Famer Peter Cornick, 60, has over 40 years’ experience in local amateur baseball and Healey says she’ll always defer to his judgment when it comes to pitch selection.
“He’s so good at calling a game ... I never, ever shake him off. Peter knows what he’s doing,” Healey says.
“After every inning, we come in the dugout and he’ll tell me what I need to work on... what’s good, what’s working, what’s not.”
Cornick and Roche can’t say for certain if opposing batters are more upset about getting fanned by her than they are by any other pitcher in the league. Neither can Reid. But for her part, Healey gets the sense the sight of her on the mound may be a little unsettling.
“I think they do get a little bit more nervous coming up to the plate, which makes them strike out more.”
On the field, Roche says Healey has delivered at whatever position he’s asked her to play.
“As a hitter, and outfielder and infielder, she’s phenomenal. She’s well-trained technically at a national level, so she knows what she’s doing and she’s been great for us wherever she’s played.”
Throughout much of her baseball career, Healey has always played middle infield, but Canadian national team coach Andre Lachance has recommended that she move to outfield. At the team’s Cuba camp, Healey played two games in the outfield and feels she performed well enough to impress Lachance.
“As a pitcher, you don’t want to just go pitching and go right to middle infield throwing balls,” she said. “You want to save your arm.”
Hitting the diamond as the only girl among a group of boys is nothing new for Healey — she’s been doing it for the past decade. Growing up, while other girls were playing with Barbies, she would be in the backyard playing catch with her dad, Fred.
Healey appreciates that the intermediate league is more a competitive game than minor baseball, and the guys play for keeps. As a result, it has proven to be somewhat intimidating at times.
“It’s all guys and I’m the first girl in the league. … I don’t want to mess up,” she admits sheepishly, adding that she tries to simply play her game and remain confident.
“But I know I’m good. I know can outdo some of the guys, so I just keep that mindset.”
At this stage in her baseball career, Healey needs high-level competition if she hopes to find a lasting place on the women’s national team. Fortunately, the opportunities have been there.
In November of last year, Healey joined the New England Red Sox women’s baseball team in their championship run at the Roy Hobbs World Series in Fort Myers, Fla. This past May, she joined the Ontario Trail Blazers for the Diamond Classic Female Baseball Tournament, helping them win a silver medal.
“We played against the Red Sox women’s team in the championship game. Both teams asked me to go, but I decided to go with the Canadian team.”
In less than two weeks, with no provincial women’s baseball team to join, Healey will head to the women’s senior nationals in Surrey, B.C. as part of the Nova Scotia entry. After nationals, she’s been asked to be one of 30 players to stick around for the national senior women’s team selection camp.
If she makes the team, Healey will head directly to Tokyo for a five-day training camp before the Women’s Baseball World Cup in Miyazaki, Japan in the first week of September.
“I’ve been emailing back and forth with (Lachance), and he’s been giving me updates on World Cup. I guess he’s giving me hints that I’m going to make the team because he’s been asking for my hat size.
“I’m a little bit nervous, but I guess anybody would be. I’ve just got to keep my mindset and know that I’ll make the team.”