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Heck yeah! Bulldog is glad to be back with Huskies

Duluth Huskies manager Daniel Hersey said releasing Jimmy Heck earlier this summer was one of the hardest things he ever had to do as manager. Bringing him back was easy. Heck, an infielder from Minnesota Duluth, leads Huskies regulars with a .34...

Jimmy Heck makes a throw
Duluth Huskies and Minnesota Duluth second baseman Jimmy Heck makes a throw versus the St. Cloud Rox on Friday night at Wade Stadium. (Photo by Dave Harwig)

Duluth Huskies manager Daniel Hersey said releasing Jimmy Heck earlier this summer was one of the hardest things he ever had to do as manager.
Bringing him back was easy.
Heck, an infielder from Minnesota Duluth, leads Huskies regulars with a .342 batting average. He got Duluth on the scoreboard with an RBI single on Friday, but it wasn’t enough as the Huskies fell 10-4 to the St. Cloud Rox in Northwoods League baseball before 3,388 at Wade Stadium.
Heck had a temporary contract and had to be released to make way as players with permanent contracts arrived. He has been back with the Huskies for about two weeks after Kansas’ Matt McLaughlin was shut down to rest a nagging wrist injury.
“It feels good to be home,” said Heck, of St. Louis Park, Minn. “Coach just told me to be ready in case somebody goes down, and I ended up getting the call. It ended up working out really well. I got to take a nice break, see my family, but now it’s nice to be back. You hate to see one of your teammates get injured, but it was a good opportunity for me.”   
Fans came out in droves on an 80-degree Friday, not dissuaded by an early afternoon sprinkle. Last year, even a light rain could have made the field a mess. This year, with an artificial surface in place, nothing was even noticeable except for a little standing water along the concourse.
With Cub Scouts in attendance for an overnight outing, the main attraction Friday was the Zooperstars entertainment team.
The Huskies (12-8) had their three-game winning streak snapped. They just didn’t get the pitching, and the Rox (15-6), the North Division second-half leaders, showed they’ve got plenty of offense. Eight of St. Cloud’s 15 hits went for extra bases, including home runs by John Sansone and Liam Bedford.
Keyed by Heck’s infield RBI single, the Huskies erupted for four runs in the sixth inning, but wanted more,
leaving two runners on base. They got the first two batters on base to start the eighth, but came up empty.
Nobody had more than one hit for the Huskies, who play at Alexandria at 5:05 p.m. today.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by how my season has gone, but I’m definitely pleased. I’m happy with the way I’ve played,” Heck said.
Besides batting .342, Heck is among team leaders in runs (21), doubles (seven) and RBIs (22) despite missing about 10 days while he waited for Hersey’s call. He returned to St. Louis Park and stayed active.
“Jimmy is a great kid and has done a great job for us,” Hersey said. “Unfortunately, somebody else went down, but it was good to have Jimmy right there, ready to go. He has done a nice job representing UMD.”
Heck is joined on this year’s Huskies squad by UMD teammates Alex Wojciechowski and Bo Hellquist. The three rent a house together along with fellow Bulldogs Kyle Comer and Matt Mattiacci.
Heck is in his first year in the Northwoods League, while Wojciechowski and Hellquist had played in the wood-bat league before.
“Jimbo knew that if something was to happen, he’d be back, so we told him just to keep working,” Wojciechowski said. “It came a little sooner than later. He was working out and playing amateur ball. He kept at it, so when he rejoined us, he was right back in stride. It’s unreal what he has done so far this summer, but I’m definitely not surprised. You could see him coming on at UMD. It’s not easy to come into this league and bat .340 in your first year. He’s my best friend, and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Heck has struggled at times in the field. He committed his 11th error in the first inning, but at other times, has been stellar. He helped save a run with a diving stop in the eighth inning. At 6-foot-5, he can cover a lot of ground.
Heck will be a senior next spring at UMD. With the likes of Heck, Wojciechowski and Hellquist returning, the Bulldogs are expecting big things next season.
“This summer has been a great experience,” Heck said. “I definitely have a newfound respect for the big-league players, doing this for 162 games. After our college season and this summer, we ended up playing quite a few games. This is it for me. One year left, and I’m going to try to make the most of it.”
* The Duluth Huskies have added 18-year-old infielder Terrin Vavra, the son of Minnesota Twins bench coach Joe Vavra and the third of three Vavra brothers to play in the Northwoods League. Terrin Vavra is bound for the University of Minnesota in the fall. Duluth released Alex Greene, who had a hand injury.
Terrin’s older brother, Trey Vavra, played for the Huskies in 2012 and 2013 and was in attendance Friday. He was batting .346 for the Minnesota Twins’ Class A affiliate, the Cedar Rapids Kernels of the Midwest League, before suffering an ankle injury after catching his left foot underneath a tarp while trying to make a play in foul territory.
* The first 50 fans 18 and older received an autographed copy of Superior author Tim Bouvine’s baseball novel, “Catching Lightning Without the Bottle.” The novel will be part of the Huskies’ July 31st promotion as well.

Jimmy Heck delivers an RBI single
Jimmy Heck delivers an RBI single for the Duluth Huskies against the St. Cloud Rox on Friday night at Wade Stadium. (Photo by Dave Harwig)

Related Topics: BASEBALL
Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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