Seoul American's Heckerl is one focused Falcon
Tristan Heckerl was soaring on April 4. The Seoul American right-hander flung a no-hitter and struck out 16 as his Falcons demolished Daegu American 16-1 at Yongsan Garrison’s Lombardo Field FourPlex.
Two weeks later, Heckerl had to wonder where his game went.
On the field turf and artificial pitching mound at Camp Humphreys, Heckerl gave up just one hit, a first-inning bloop single, and struck out 11. But he was all over the yard, bouncing pitches in the dirt or over the catcher’s head for nine walks in a 9-3 loss to Daegu.
“Where did my game go? That’s exactly what I was thinking,” Heckerl recalled of the vast contrast in the two games.
Before the April 4 opener, “I had it in my mind that I was going to destroy them, not walk anyone, not do anything wrong,” Heckerl said. “That perfection mentality really helped, whereas in this game, the focus was just gone, I guess.”
Yet after Saturday’s loss, Heckerl said he knew even the best of major leaguers, including his idol Nolan Ryan, couldn’t win every time out.
“What would be the challenge if I won every game?” he said. “Obviously, I’m going to lose sometime. You learn more from losing. Especially as the team captain, if the leader’s hope is gone, then the team will be down with me. You have to have a very short memory.”
He could have blamed the artificial mound, which he said kept him from getting good down drive on his pitches. Or the road environment, which was unfamiliar to him. Or eight passed balls that led to runs.
“I don’t want to make excuses,” he said. “Home games, away games, you have to get used to it.”
As for the passed balls, Heckerl reminds whoever asks that junior Joe McLean also caught the April 4 no-hitter, which featured no walks and no passed balls.
In victory or defeat, Heckerl has emerged as the unquestioned ace of the Falcons’ staff. He entered the season 20-5 with a 2.53 ERA and averaging 13 strikeouts per game — and he has also committed to a partial financial grant-in-aid from Trinity University in San Antonio.
Heckerl will join a Trinity program that twice has gotten within one game of the Division III College World Series.
Trinity coach Tim Scannell spotted Heckerl at a two-day showcase in Sacramento, a day after Heckerl attended a Stanford summer camp.
“He said after the first pitch I threw, he knew I was college material,” Heckerl recalled. “After watching the next six innings, he said I’d be a great fit and I could help immediately, wouldn’t have to redshirt or wait a couple of years to start.”
Heckerl’s dad, Robert, who is also the Falcons’ coach, said the grant-in-aid will cover “about 40 percent” of the cost of attending Trinity.
Scannell and his staff were competing in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament at Millington, Tenn., and were not available for comment.
Heckerl has pitched since he was 9 in the Korea youth activities system; his father teaches at Seoul American Middle School, but he took the Falcons’ reins just this season.
“He’s nowhere near done growing, not even a young man’s body yet,” Robert Heckerl said of his 17-year-old son, who throws a fastball in the mid- to high 80s, a curve and a knuckle-changeup.
Tristan learned the curve from Tim Drew, younger brother of major league players J.D. and Stephen Drew, while Tim was on a missionary visit to South Korea four years ago.
“It looks like a fastball until four feet from the plate, then it plunges,” Robert Heckerl said.
Even in Saturday’s loss, Heckerl hardly was roughed up. So how do you hit against him?
“Lay off the fastball and wait until he comes back with something else,” Daegu coach Bill Riggs said, adding that he has a tendency to “overthrow” and “tip off” pitches when he throws harder.
“But he has the potential, velocity, windup and is smooth in his actions,” Riggs said.
Heckerl, a 3.45 GPA student taking Advanced Placement English literature, calls himself lucky that all the showcases and the Stanford camp “paid off” with a spot on Trinity’s team.
“Keep practicing, keep trying to get better, take all the coaching advice you can,” Heckerl said of those aspiring to play college ball. “But keep things in perspective.”
And before he ventures to San Antonio, Heckerl has one bit of unfinished business he’d like to complete — dethroning two-time DODDS-Korea champion Osan American.
“We’re not bulletproof,” Heckerl said. “We realized [Saturday] that they (opponents) may win once in a while. We still have four weeks to play. We can’t take anybody lightly.”