Olivet graduate Ben Heller’s (’13) legs were trembling as he jogged out to the mound to make his first major league appearance, according to MLB.com.
In just three years, Heller grew from a member of Olivet’s baseball team to a New York Yankee. His ascent to the major leagues has been celebrated by many of his former teammates and coaches here on campus.
Heller originally attended Whitewater High School in Whitewater, Wis., where he holds the school record for saves, pitched two no-hitters, and had a 1.14 ERA his senior year.
Despite his successes in high school, RHP (Right Handed Pitcher) Heller was not drafted and enrolled at Olivet on a baseball scholarship to study Psychology. After graduation Heller was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 22nd round and assigned to one of their minor league teams: Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
After three years playing on several of Cleveland’s minor teams, Heller was traded to the Yankees’ minors program. On Aug. 11 the New York Yankees promoted him and he donned the iconic pinstripes for the first time.
Heller made his debut with the Yankees on Aug. 27. He recorded an error when he dropped a ball thrown to him, but then went on to complete a scoreless 8th inning.
While Heller was a part of Olivet’s baseball team, Head Coach Todd Reid watched him grow from a quiet freshman to a talented NAIA scholar. Over the course of those four years, Reid began to see Heller as a natural, humble leader who was well liked by his teammates.
“He had talent, but what really set him apart was his drive and work ethic,” said Reid, “He did everything that he could control.” According to Reid, Heller worked hard both at his sport and at his studies. Dr. Kristian Veit of Olivet’s behavioral sciences department agrees.
“(Heller) was a great student,” said Veit, “He was humble and disciplined.”
Veit had Heller in three classes during his time at Olivet and was very proud of him when he heard about the promotion from coach Reid.
“One of the highlights of the job is seeing where (former students) go after they leave here and what the Lord is doing in their lives,” said Veit.
One of Heller’s former teammates Professor Jonathan Fightmaster, works both in Olivet’s mathematics department and as the pitching coach for the baseball team. Fightmaster played with Heller for three years.
“He was a fun guy to be around,” said Fightmaster, “Full of energy.”
Fightmaster looked up to Heller during their time together and would often go to him for advice.
When Reid heard the news that Heller had been promoted to the Yankees, he invited Fightmaster and several of his other former teammates to his house to watch Heller’s first game.
“It was super exciting to see him out there,” said Fightmaster.
Fightmaster found it surreal to see his former teammate on TV during an interview after the game, but was glad to see that he was still the same person he had played with: humble, and very thankful for his family and friends.
Veit remarked that not every person can be successful while also being humble and a role model. He believes that Heller is a rare exception.
“You can root for him because of who he is” said Veit.
— Brandon Grossi, Sports Editor