As much as he enjoyed working with Mauricio Dubon last September, it surely stung Brandon Crawford just a little a bit to hear the young shortstop so often tell stories about how he had grown up watching Crawford. Another Giant inadvertently piled on this spring.
Tyler Heineman knows all about Crawford's championships and Gold Gloves, but he also is very familiar with Brandon Crawford the UCLA Bruins star. Heineman grew up a few miles from campus and used to go watch Crawford play games in college. He was excited to point that out when they met this spring.
"I was like 'I watched you play when I was in middle school and high school,'" Heineman said on this week's Giants Insider Podcast. "He was like, 'Wow, that's the first thing you say? You come up to me and say that, making me feel really old?' But he had a good sense of humor about it so it was fun."
Crawford, famous for his deadpan delivery, is five years older than Heineman but already knew who he was because he still follows UCLA's sporting scene. It's one Heineman very nearly wasn't part of at all, though. When he was preparing to graduate from the small Windward School in Los Angeles, Heineman, an undersized catcher at the time, was faced with a choice.
Go to Harvard and play right away, or go to UCLA and be the bullpen catcher?
"My mom still gives me crap because I got an offer to play at Harvard and start as a freshman and probably play for four years," Heineman said. "My high school and travel ball coaches still give me crap for it, but I always wanted to go to UCLA."
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Heineman had attended UCLA camps as a kid and always dreamed of putting on their colors and following in the footsteps of players like Crawford. But he was lightly recruited despite hitting .619 as a junior. As signing day approached, only Ivy League schools and some Division II programs had made offers.
UCLA kept the door open, with one of the coaches telling Heineman he liked his spirit and could join as a bullpen catcher and fight for more playing time. That was good enough for Heineman, who enrolled at UCLA at the same time as another former Giants catcher, Trevor Brown.
Heineman got just eight at-bats as a freshman but saw increased time as a sophomore. He caught a bit of a break before his junior year when local standout Austin Hedges -- now a Padre -- chose to sign instead of attending UCLA. Heineman started 52 games behind the plate, hitting .332 and raising it to .383 in Pac-12 action. That June, the decision to pass up the Harvard education looked like a smart one. Heineman was taken in the eighth round of by the Astros, starting a professional career that landed him in Giants camp this spring as a non-roster invitee.
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When he hit free agency, Heineman again chose a path with some resistance. He came to the Giants knowing that Buster Posey was locked in as the starter and top prospect Joey Bart is knocking on the door. But Heineman felt it was a good place to continue learning, and when the Giants were sent home in mid-March, he was in a two-man battle with Rob Brantly for the backup job on Opening Day.
"It has been a tough road but I think it kind of helped me with learning about perseverance," he said on the podcast. "You can make your own path if you're willing to work at it and never give up."
How Tyler Heineman's path to Giants began in unlikely fashion at UCLA originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area