College of Charleston’s Heidt ready to fulfill college, professional dreams

College of Charleston shortstop Gunnar Heidt has a busy week ahead.

With his team advancing to the NCAA Super Regionals and the MLB First Year Player Draft approaching, Heidt has a chance to fulfill two dreams he’s always had – playing in Omaha and getting drafted.

Last week, one was more likely than the other for the St. James graduate.

The Cougars surprisingly won the Gainesville (Fla.) Regional as a No. 4 seed on Monday, setting College of Charleston up with a three-game series against No. 2 seed Texas Tech starting Saturday.

As for this week’s draft – slated for Thursday through Saturday – many draft projections have Heidt’s name being called at some point. According to Baseball America, he is considered the 230th-ranked prospect in the draft, which lasts 40 rounds.

“It’s an awesome opportunity. Growing up as a kid that’s what you work for,” the junior said of potentially being drafted. “So to get the opportunity to be a professional baseball player is like a dream come true. Hopefully I’ll be able to sign and play somewhere If I get treated well enough, I’ll sign to play professionally. But if not, I’d definitely be open to coming back for my senior season here in Charleston.”

However, Heidt’s status for the Super Regional is yet to be determined. He suffered a broken hand in April and has been working hard to return as quickly as possible.

“I broke my hand and my diagnosis was six to eight weeks and I’m on my sixth week,” he said. “I’ve been swinging and throwing the last few weeks but I’m hopefully looking to play in the Super Regionals, but if not then, I’ll be ready for Omaha – if we go.”

College of Charleston upset top seed Florida, which was ranked third in the country by Baseball America, in the opening game of the regional and went 3-0 en route to advancing. Watching his team from the bench hasn’t been easy, but it has motivated Heidt.

“It’s been a good experience [at the regionals] beating one of the top teams in the country; it’s a big deal,” Heidt said. “Now we’re going to the Super Regionals, which has only happened once in school history. It’s been really tough to watch from the bench but they’ve been playing well without me. We’re just a really confident team; if we score early, we don’t have to worry as much. I’m excited to see where we go from here.”

St. James baseball coach Robbie Centracchio said Heidt’s one of the best athletes he’s seen come through the high school level.

“Gunnar is probably most competitive person I’ve ever coached,” Centracchio said. “All-around he’s probably the best athlete we’ve seen. He could have chosen any sport and excelled at it. He wills himself and his team to win and wants to succeed. He’s carried that with him everywhere he’s played; he’s just an amazing competitor and athlete.”

While at College of Charleston, Heidt started all 57 games as shortstop in 2013 and led the team in batting average at .349 with a team-leading 54 RBIs, which ranked sixth in the Southern Conference, and four home runs. This year, Heidt again led the Cougars in batting average at .335 with 30 RBIs and four home runs.

Heidt said his experience at St. James prepared him well for the next level.

“Coming from a place like St. James you learn how to win,” Heidt said. “My whole four years there we were big competitors and had a chance to win the championship every year. You learn to win and that’s been our mentality this year. Going into the regional we were expecting to win and we’re still expecting to win. We just have to win two more games and we’ll be there with a chance to bring home a title.”

Playing at St. James, Heidt became close friends with Tanner English, a junior who’s played in a College World Series with South Carolina and is the 212th-ranked prospect in the draft pool, according to Baseball America. Heidt and English helped St. James to win the Class AAA championship in 2011, and the two played for the Harwich Mariners last summer in the Cape Cod league.

Centracchio said the tandem has put St. James on the map.

“So many out-of-area teams come to our field and say, ‘Wow, this is the place Tanner English and Gunnar Heidt played,’ and it’s pretty neat,” he said. “With the exposure they’ve gotten at the college scene it’s pretty cool to see the exposure they brought us.”

Even when they were younger, Centracchio knew Heidt and English were unique.

“Definitely by junior-senior year [I knew], but even at a young age I saw these guys were something special,” Centracchio said. “Their work ethic combined with talent is superior to anybody I’ve coached before. A lot of talented kids come through the high school level but their work ethic separates them from the rest.”

Heidt said he jokes with English, saying that the two could possibly end up playing together on the Grand Strand one more time.

“[Tanner is] like my brother,” Heidt said. “Since we’ve been to college, we played on the same team and even lived in the same house [in the Cape Cod League]. We talk about getting drafted by the same team. It would be funny if we get picked up by Rangers and we both played in Myrtle Beach [for the Pelicans]. [Tanner] has done some good things at South Carolina and I think he’ll definitely get drafted. It would be pretty cool to play on the same team again.”