Heathcott overcomes injuries to fulfill MLB dream
Slade Heathcott. COURTESY NEW YORK YANKEES/ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Cherokee Nation citizen Slade Heathcott high-fives a New York Yankees teammate during a 2015 game. The Yankees drafted Heathcott out of high school. COURTESY NEW YORK YANKEES/ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Slade Heathcott hustles out of the batter’s box after a hit in a 2015 game. In 2015, he played 17 games for the Yankees with 30 plate appearances with a batting average of .400. COURTESY NEW YORK YANKEES/ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
TAMPA, Fla. – Many children grow up with dreams of playing the game professionally. However less than 11 percent of NCAA college athletes are drafted by a Major League Baseball team and less than 1 percent of high school players are drafted into the professional ranks.
Cherokee Nation citizen Zachary Slade Heathcott is part of the less than percent after being drafted by the New York Yankees out of high school.
“I had the privilege, out of high school, to be drafted by the Yankees,” he said. “I ended up taking the opportunity and I signed in August of 2009.”
Heathcott reported to the Gulf Coast Yankees of the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and played a few games before injury and surgery shortened his season.
He returned to the diamond mid-2010 playing for the Charleston RiverDogs of the Class A South Atlantic League. He hit for a .258 batting average, but at the end that season he underwent surgery on his shoulder. He said he returned to Charleston for the 2011 season and improved his batting average. In June he was promoted to the Tampa Yankees of the Class A-Advanced Florida State League. However, he only played in one game due to a shoulder injury and missed the remainder of the season.
Knee injuries plagued Heathcott through the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons. However, he said, within the past two years, his injuries have subsided and things are “looking up.”
“I think I have had five surgeries now,” he said. “I’m finally getting everything under control in the last two years.”
Heathcott said he has been injury free for the past two offseasons and that allowed him to make his Major League debut in early 2015.
“I think my first game was May 20 in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Having gotten the call was awesome. I’ve been fortunate enough to have my son with me at the time. That was something I was thankful for. It was a very exciting time. Obviously, there are guys and players that have played their entire life or grew up watching baseball players and wanting to be in their shoes. For my case, to go through all the injuries and face all the hurdles that have been thrown at me, I’ve been blessed in that way. Because of all the injuries, I actually enjoyed the magnificence of the situation and I was very appreciative. All the injuries made me appreciate the whole process more.”
In 2015, Heathcott played in six games for the Yankees before being sent back down to the minors due to an injury. According to baseball-reference.com, he played most of the year with the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders where he hit .267 with 27 RBIs in 64 games. He was again called up by the Yankees in September and finished the 2015 season on their active roster. In all, he played 17 games for the Yankees with 30 plate appearances while hitting .400.
As of publication, Heathcott was in spring training with the Yankees without a guaranteed spot on their active roster. He said he was healthy, but injuries are always on his mind.
He said his Cherokee heritage and a positive mindset keeps him optimistic.
“A Cherokee is who I am,” he said. “That’s what I stand for. I always have a deep tie to it. If there is a will there is a way. I have been to a point in my career where I was told my career might be over and to realize the mental side of it. With the right process and with the right mentality, we can do anything we want.”