Oregon State left-hander Luke Heimrich returned to the baseball diamond on Friday, helping to lead his ballclub to a 5-2 win against New Mexico. It was the first time Heimlich had pitched in a game since last June, when he removed himself from Oregon State’s College World Series bound team to avoid becoming a “distraction.”
Heimlich’s decision to remove himself stemmed from a report published by The Oregonian, which revealed that Heimlich had been charged with molesting a six-year-old female family when he was 15. The report noted that Heimlich pleaded guilty to the charge.
Heimlich has since served his time, completing a rehabilitation program required by the state of Washington. Some have questioned if Heimlich entered that plea as an admission of guilt, or if he was given bad advice by his lawyers. Others believe that The Oregonian never should have run their report in light of Washington state laws and Heimlich’s status as a juvenile at the time of the charge.
What is clear is that despite the report coming out, coach Pat Casey and the Oregon State baseball program have fully supported Heimlich and are still comfortable with him being the face of the team.
They were given no reason to feel any different before, during or after Friday’s game. According to The Oregonian, Heimlich was greeted with an “eruption of cheers” before going on to allow two runs on four hits over six innings.
On the field, it was a continuation of the dominance that made Heimlich one of the top pitching prospects in college baseball last season. Before the revelation, he was expected to be a first-round draft pick. Before the revelation, he was being counted on as a key piece of a potential Oregon State championship team.
Now though, it’s impossible to look past the elephant in the room. After MLB teams reacted by allowing Heimlich to go undrafted, many are wondering if the talent Oregon State is gaining on the field is really worth the message it threatens to convey or the backlash that could come from it.
“Everybody, most of the time, deserves a second chance. I get that,” an anonymous athletic director told CBS Sports Dennis Dodd.
“[Heimlich] went through his counseling, but it was a 6-year-old child … You’ve got little girls coming to your games. You can’t have that as an image with your program with Larry Nassar and all those things going on. Really?
“You just have to say, ‘I’m sorry, young man, you can’t play for us.'”
It’s worth noting that Heimlich’s official return came days after Oregon State announced a new policy that will require all new and continuing students to self-report felony convictions and disclose whether they are registered sex offenders beginning with the fall 2018 term.
That means once Heimlich is gone, any student with similar circumstances could face consequences. As for those who are straight-forward under the new policy, the dean of student life would be responsible for determining “any extracurricular engagement and participation limitations or requirements needed for safety involving a self-disclosed student.”
By some, it’s even being referred to as the “Luke Heimlich Rule,” with the added suggestion that the timing of everything is a little too convenient.
From the outside looking in, nothing about Heimlich’s return feels comfortable, even if it was inevitable. Giving someone a second chance is certainly acceptable under the right circumstances, and many do believe Heimlich deserves it. But knowing and understanding the reasons why and motivation for that second chance being granted can be telling too.
A lot of unanswered questions remain. Perhaps getting those answers would require a more thorough examination of how Oregon State has handled the situation. Until that happens, there’s going to be a lot of debate over whether Heimlich’s return is acceptable or not.
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