Chris Heisey: 41st Dragons Player in the Major Leagues
On July 23, 2011, the Dayton Dragons and their fans celebrated their new record for consecutive sold-out dates at Fifth Third Field. The Dragons had broken the all-time North American sports record when they completed their 815th consecutive sell-out. Numerous celebrities were on hand for this special night as well as national media from ESPN, USA Today, the New York Times, CNN, and the Wall Street Journal among others. Midway through the game, a helicopter landed on the plaza at Fifth Third Field.
The Cincinnati Reds had played an afternoon game that day against the Atlanta Braves at Great American Ball Park. Reds outfielder and former Dragon Chris Heisey had been talking with Dragons General Manager Gary Mayse about being part of the celebration of the sell-out streak record. Heisey had reached out to teammates Drew Stubbs and Logan Ondrusek, both former Dragons as well, and both wanted to participate in the celebration too. When the Reds completed their game against the Braves, the three players showered, dressed, and boarded the waiting helicopter in Cincinnati. Minutes later, they landed in Dayton. When they arrived, Heisey, Stubbs, and Ondrusek stepped out of the helicopter in their own Dragons jerseys. The game was briefly halted as the three players stepped onto the field and were handed microphones, and each one took a turn at congratulating the fans and thanking them for making the streak possible.
Minutes later, Heisey appeared on the Dragons live television broadcast of the game. He was asked about what had just taken place.
"Chris, in 2007, you played on this field as a member of the Dragons, an unknown kid out of a small college in Pennsylvania. Just another face on the field. Now, four years, you come back in a helicopter, and they stop the game for you."
Heisey thought for a second, offered a big smile, and delivered a brief, modest reply.
"Boy, that's pretty neat, isn't it -
Chris Heisey was drafted by the Reds in the 17th round out of Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, a school he had attended with original intentions of becoming a teacher. The Reds assigned Heisey to the Billings Mustangs that summer, and he played alongside Stubbs for the first time. The two players became close friends and would be teammates for most of the next several seasons. Heisey hit .286 at Billings and added six home runs in 70 games.
In 2007, Heisey earned a spot in the Dragons opening night starting lineup. On a team that featured numerous high draft picks and top prospects, he opened the season batting ninth and playing left field. Heisey started the year with a seven-game hitting streak as the Dragons won all seven games. On May 14, Heisey started a nine-game hitting streak. By the end of that streak, Dragons manager Donnie Scott had moved him from the ninth spot in the order into the five hole. His batting average stood at .294.
Heisey opened the second half by going 4 for 4 against West Michigan. He started a 10-game hitting streak on June 29 that lifted his average to .302. By July 17, he was up to .308 as Scott moved him to different spots in the batting order. He would hit in the lead-off position as well as the second and third spot. By season's end, he had occupied every position in the batting order except the fourth spot. His second half average with the Dragons was .325 and, despite a 3 for 29 finish to his season, he ended the year at .289 with nine home runs and 46 runs batted in. With a month to go in the season, he was promoted to Sarasota, where he hit .349 in 12 games. Still overshadowed by others, Heisey was not listed on the Baseball America ranking of the top 30 prospects in the Reds organization when the publication came out after the season.
Heisey went back to Sarasota in 2008 and played in the Florida State League All-Star Game. He moved to Double-A Chattanooga late in the year and his combined average between the two clubs was .291 with nine home runs and 61 RBI. He also added 32 stolen bases. For the first time, he appeared on Baseball America's prospect list, rated #22 in the organization. They observed "as people see him over a longer stretch, his appeal grows...he plays with a chip on his shoulder thanks to how hard he has had to work to get noticed."
Heisey enjoyed his best year in the minors in 2009 when he won the Sheldon "Chief" Bender award as the Reds Minor League Player of the Year. He hit .314 with 22 home runs and 77 RBI, splitting the season down the middle between Double-A and Triple-A. When the top 30 prospect list appeared following the season, Heisey had climbed all the way to #4, trailing only Todd Frazier, Yonder Alonso, and Mike Leake. The publication told his unlikely story.
"Until he tagged along with a friend to tryout camps before his junior year at Division III Messiah, Heisey wasn't assured of a baseball career...At the plate, he uses the entire field and makes his living driving the ball up the middle. He shows solid bat speed and surprising power...he's an above average runner with instincts that enhance his speed...He's a plus defender on the outfield corners."
Heisey began the 2010 season at Triple-A Louisville, but on April 30, he was promoted to Cincinnati. He remained with the club the rest of the season and connected on four pinch hit home runs, just one short of the Reds club record. On August 2 at Pittsburgh, he circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run, the first ever hit by an opposing player at PNC Park. He finished his rookie season at .254 with eight home runs and 21 RBI.
Heisey returned to the Reds in 2011, playing in 120 of the club's 162 games. He hit .254 with 18 home runs and 50 RBI. On June 22 against the Mets, Heisey blasted three home runs, becoming just the 27th player in franchise history to do so. Among the three long balls was his first career game-opening lead-off home run. Then on July 6, he opened a game with a lead-off homer against Jake Westbrook of the Cardinals. In Westbrook's next start, which also came against Cincinnati, Heisey again hit a lead-off homer in the first inning.
Heisey established career highs in at-bats, hits, doubles, and triples in 2012 for the Reds, batting .265 with seven homers and 31 RBI. He added his second career inside-the-park home run on August 3, just the fourth ever hit at Great American Ball Park. Heisey was the Reds recipient of the Heart and Hustle Award, given annually to a player who demonstrates a passion for and best embodies the values, tradition, and spirit of the game.
Heisey has now played in 337 Major League games, batting .259 with 33 home runs and 102 RBI. His friendly, upbeat, and outgoing personality has made him a fan favorite. He was the 41st former Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues.
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