Heilman moving on with no regrets
Right-hander looking forward to the new opportunity in Seattle
NEW YORK -- He had asked for this, in a way. Aaron Heilman had presented the Mets with an ultimatum, delivered with a "Please." When he said "Start me or trade me," he did so without rancor and with the hope a change of assignment would be in the offing rather than a change of employer. Heilman never wanted to leave the Mets. He never wanted to be a relief pitcher, either.
And now his either-or has been accommodated. The cross-over pitcher the Mets no longer wanted has crossed over -- from the National League East to the American League West, from Atlantic to Pacific -- "Gee, the traffic is terrific," from Mets to Mariners. And as he awaits a phone call from his new boss, he hopes the re-location includes this: from reliever to starter.
If it doesn't, well ... them's the breaks. He'll make the most of the Mariners. He thought he had done so during his 305 games -- 25 starts -- with the Mets.
Heilman departs with neither rancor nor regret. "This is just the next chapter in the life of a baseball player," he said Thursday night from his home outside Chicago. "What do they say? 'If you haven't been traded, released, booed or aired out by your manager, you haven't played long enough.'"
At age 30, Heilman is halfway there. His resume doesn't include release or an airing-out. The trade happened late Wednesday. He was a primary piece in the three-club, dozen-men exchange the Mets engineered with the Mariners and Indians, a deal that puts J.J. Putz in the eighth-inning role that had been Heilman's for much of the last three seasons. The booing had happened too.
Heilman's uneven performance in 2007 and last season had earned him a place in the Pantheon of Vilified Mets (PVM); Doug Sisk, founder and chairman of the board; Guillermo Mota president. High-profile members include Heilman, Doug Simons, Luis Castillo, Kaz Matsui, Scott Schoeneweis, Pedro Feliciano and almost anyone who pitched in relief last season. John Franco and Tom Glavine, despite their accomplishments, had honorary -- and temporary -- memberships.
They all had their moments as Shea Stadium targets.
Now that he is gone without a chance to clear his name, Heilman probably will serve a as a member of the board of directors until displaced by the next guy whose slider goes flat at the wrong time. His credentials, including a 3-8 record and 5.21 ERA last season and a home run that decided the 2006 NLCS, will be recalled as scarlet letters and numbers by those who fill Citi Field. The one-hitter he threw in 2005 weeks before he became a reliever already has been purged from their memories, though it stands as evidence to the contrary, proof that Heilman could be successful, even dominating, as a starter.
But the boos were louder than that memory is vivid.
"I never wanted to leave because I got booed," Heilman said. "I never had the feeling I wanted to leave New York." Emphasis on wanted. "I don't have any regrets. I loved playing there. I'm comfortable with being traded. I'm looking forward to the new opportunity, whatever it is. I never look back to decisions and wonder. When I decided I was going back for my senior year [at Notre Dame], I didn't question myself later."
Perhaps the Mets will speak the second-guesses, the players if not the club. Heilman, sometimes identified as "Wall Street" by his colleagues, was the clubhouse's primary intellect. He provided the book reviews, the crossword puzzle answers and some of higher-brow humor. Some of the lower-brow, too.
He was laptop savvy before the others had laptops. He purchased the cutting edge electronic toys. He was the Joneses the other tried to keep up with. He was the player rep. He even had the honor of living out of "Seaver's locker" for two seasons.
And now that locker is gone too, waiting for some Shea archeologist to claim -- and pay for -- it.
"Life goes on," Heilman said.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.