Watch Brian Heere run so fluidly, tracking a deep fly with the crack of the bat, crashing into the center-field fence for another web gem. Now watch him at the plate, killing a bunt in no-man’s land, burning down the line for a base hit. Now look at the scoreboard and see his batting average, which starts with a “.4.”
Now remind yourself that this is an athlete who had to red-shirt a year before earning one of the five outfield spots on the Kansas University travel squad.
A former Lawrence High quarterback whose Houdini hands hid the football and made the defense look as clueless then as defenses on the baseball diamond do now when he drag-bunts, Heere has come a long way in a short time.
“It’s a tremendous tribute to the kid, how much he’s improved in every phase of the game since he got here,” Kansas University baseball coach Ritch Price said. “I really liked his makeup in high school. I liked how good an athlete he was and that he played quarterback on his team.”
A fourth-year junior chosen in the 48th round of last June’s draft, Heere enters today’s series opener against Oklahoma at Hoglund Ballpark with a .413 batting average, up from .364 in 2009.
“One of the things he couldn’t do when he got here, he couldn’t handle the bat,” Price said. “Tuesday night in Little Rock, (Brandon) Macias singles. Robby (Price) singles. (Heere) looks over at me as I’m starting to give the sign, and he’s smiling. He knows exactly what’s coming. He put the ball on the ground. The guy had absolutely no play to make a throw. He’s safe at first. It’s his 14th drag-bunt base hit of the season. That’s the reason he’s hitting .400.”
For as long as he coaches, Price will hold up Heere as an example of what learning to bunt can do not only do for a team, but for an individual, especially plus runners who bat from the left side.
Heere has a .490 on-base percentage, has hit six home runs in 208 at bats and has not been thrown out in seven stolen-base attempts. Yet, defense is his greatest strength. Price had high expectations for him when he shifted Heere from right field to center this season. Heere quickly left those expectations in his wake.
“He’s the best defensive player that I’ve coached in center field in 32 years,” Price said. “He never takes a bad route to the ball. He just glides across the outfield. He does it so gracefully, with no effort. And he’s got great hands, catches everything hit to him.”
Teammates marvel at plays he makes going back on balls. Fear of crashing into the fence doesn’t deter Heere.
“Every time I do it, I thank Skip for getting the padding on the wall this year,” Heere said.
Heere’s mental approach also portends well for a long baseball career.
“Can’t get too high,” Heere said. “Can’t get too low. If you get into a slump, start pressing, start getting frustrated, it’s like quicksand. You just fall deeper and deeper. You start thinking about numbers, that’s when you get frustrated and get into a slump. You start thinking, ‘I have to get a hit,’ instead of getting someone over, getting a sac fly, just playing the game.”
He plays to win the game, and his .413 batting average is a byproduct of that.