He fulfilled a dream, providing a climax to a minor league career that spanned eight years. It took more than 600 games with four organizations, but Sept. 4, 2019, did arrive for Tyler Heineman, when the then-Marlins catcher stepped to the plate against Pittsburgh’s Yacksel Rios and struck out. It didn’t matter; he was a major leaguer for that game, and he entered four more before the year closed.
Seven months later, it turns out it did very much matter for this year and for the 28-year-old’s bank account.
Heineman and his wife recently purchased a house in Studio City, Calif., and while he said they were buying “well within our means” — accepting the possibility his major league dream could die without much more financial padding — he still had not gotten a paycheck since September.
That was the reality of non-roster players in major league camps trying to make a 40-man outfit. Heineman and Rob Brantly were battling each other to become Buster Posey’s understudy before the coronavirus pandemic quickly and unceremoniously closed all camps March 12. Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed upon a deal that would guarantee roster members paychecks in the event the whole season is wiped out. Those hustling for roster spots did not reach a conclusion, and thus have been shut out from financial help — until Friday.
The players union set up a program for non-roster guys who have appeared in the majors for at least one day — Heineman and Brantly for San Francisco as well as Billy Hamilton, Darin Ruf, Joey Rickard, Zach Green, Andrew Triggs, just to name a few — who are getting a bump from the $400 per week they will receive under the minor league plan. Players in Heineman’s class — 0-1 years of service — will receive $5,000.
“It means a lot. It’s a tough situation because there are a lot of guys throughout baseball that are non-roster guys, some older veterans who have some service time that were potentially going to make a team,” Heineman said over the phone Friday. “It’s a tough blow to everybody. But when they passed what was going on with the 40-man roster guys, it was a tough blow [because] some of the guys who were non-roster guys were probably going to be added to the 40-man. They can’t reap any of the — they’re not benefits, but they can’t partake in any of the stuff that was happening and be able to get some financial relief.”
Especially for Heineman, whose wife, a physical therapist at a children’s hospital, is fortunately still working. They moved into their new house Saturday. He understands there are people far worse off, people who have lost jobs, yet this money will help the couple.
“Being a first-time home owner and having to pay a mortgage and everything, it’s a nice relief,” said the catcher.
Also a nice relief: having a place to work out. Heineman and his brother, Scott, who also debuted last season for Texas, have found a nearby facility they can safely keep in shape, and they’ve been going about five times per week. He said he’s focusing more on strengthening his body; after all, there isn’t the same fear of being sore the next day that would have existed in camp.
When he’s not at the gym, he’s now home. Heineman is redoing a closet and doing some work around the house — “Just simple things that anybody could do if you’ve got time, and I’ve got nothing but time.” — while loading up from online stores because he can’t go to Home Depot in a COVID-19 world.
And of course, he’s doing some magic tricks, the magician connecting virtually with fans who have some time on their hands, too.
🔊 sound ON 🔊 pic.twitter.com/ErqZGDYzW1
— SFGiants (@SFGiants) March 26, 2020
He’s working out and playing handyman and entertaining with a bit less of a weight on his shoulders.
“Everything happens for a reason. I don’t know why something like this is happening, and I’m very happy that I played those five games last year so I can get some sort of relief,” Heineman said. “At the end of the day, still we’re not able to work, we’re not able to enjoy the things that we love to do, and that’s play baseball. It’s a tough situation for everyone. But speaking from a personal standpoint, all I want to do is just go out and play.”