CORVALLIS — As a light drizzle began to fall a little before 5 p.m. Friday, most of the nearly 4,000 people inside Goss Stadium waited for Luke Heimlich to take the mound in the ninth inning.
Oregon State was on the verge of taking a 1-0 lead in the best-of-3 Corvallis Super Regional and move one victory away from a return trip to college baseball’s mecca — Omaha, Nebraska, and the College World Series.
Heimlich had been sensational Friday, scattering six hits and allowing only a solo home run in his first eight innings.
He quickly got the first out.
After giving up a single, Heimlich engaged in a 10-pitch at-bat with Alex Boxwell. Finally, Boxwell watched strike three cross the plate.
It was the last pitch Heimlich would throw in front of the home crowd.
In the third-base dugout, pitching coach Nate Yeskie began to make his way to the top step and onto the field before slowly making his way to the mound.
On the field, Heimlich’s infield mates gathered on the mound and one by one gave the senior left-hander a hug before Yeskie arrived to make the call to the bullpen.
When the crowd realized what was happening, the majority rose and gave Heimlich a loud, standing ovation.
Heimlich tipped his cap as he left the playing field and a few seconds after sitting down, his teammates encouraged him to go out for a curtain call.
It was a moment that, on the surface, was typical of the performance and career of a player such as Heimlich.
But there has been more to this story.
Regardless of how the season ends, Luke Heimlich will go down as one of the greatest pitchers to ever lace up the cleats and don the black and orange.
He will leave as OSU’s all-time leader in career strikeouts and career wins — he is tied with Ben Wetzler with 36.
In his last two seasons, Heimlich has gone 27-2 with 279 strikeouts and an incredible 1.54 ERA.
While his numbers are staggering, Heimlich will, undoubtedly, also leave as one of the most controversial and polarizing players not only in the baseball program but in any athletic program at Oregon State.
It was just over a year ago when Heimlich’s baseball life was turned upside down. His legal case has been well documented so no need to go into depth with that.
It’s a difficult situation, to say the least.
Should Heimlich have been allowed to play this year after those legal issues had come to light?
Some say yes.
Many others say no.
While I have yet to decide exactly where I stand on that issue, and it’s been a year, I typically lean toward choosing forgiveness and second chances.
I also have empathy for the young girl involved, who, by what I have read, appears to be doing well at this time. That’s good to hear.
But I also see how the heinous act that Heimlich, who has maintained his innocence, plead guilty to as a 15-year-old is one that challenges that idea of forgiveness and second chances.
Especially for parents of young girls, myself included.
By all accounts, Heimlich has done all he can to be a model citizen and comply with his legal responsibilities for what apparently happened when he was a teenager.
Should his age at the time make a difference in how we try to reconcile what may have happened and how we as a society should respond?
Again, there is plenty of gray in what is becoming a more black-and-white world each day.
This past year has, no doubt, been tough on Heimlich. Dealing with all the fallout could not have been easy.
Through it all, Heimlich has maintained a level of athletic excellence that only comes around so often. It makes what he was able to accomplish on the field that much more impressive.
He said he has also grown, personally, even with the public scrutiny that has taken place.
He talked Friday night about how being a part of the baseball program helped him “in becoming who I want to be as a person.”
He deflected questions about being passed over this week in the Major League Baseball draft for a second straight season — instead focusing on the games that are yet to come.
Several players took to Twitter to express their feelings about their teammate.
From Cadyn Grenier in response to a video of the ovation: “Community loves a kid this much, even wanted a curtain call after. Not a reason in the world anyone in pro ball should be worried about picking him up. Just more proof right here”
From former Crater standout Dylan Pearce: “Honored to play with him! Worked so hard and has got us where we are. Great Job Brother!”
People can change.
People can overcome mistakes, even as heinous as the ones in Heimlich’s case.
But not everyone can forgive.
Heimlich appears to have done his part.
The rest is out of his hands.