Rode

Rode: Red Deer’s Hachkowski has talent to reach his goal

Like any young athlete growing up, Heath Hachkowski set a goal of playing at the highest level possible.

In his case, that’s the Major Leagues.

The 17-year-old, who pitches and plays first base, has the size — six-foot-five, 230-pounds — and skill to legitimately give himself a chance to do just that.

He’s also doing everything in his power to develop those skills, attending the St. Joe’s Baseball Academy for the past four years as well as touring through the United States.

Heath, who moved to Red Deer from Slave Lake when he was three, got into baseball at an early age, playing T-Ball, and came up through the Red Deer Minor Association.

He attended Westpark Middle School in Grade 8 but switched to St. Thomas in Grade 9 to be able to attend the St. Joe’s Junior High program. In Grade 10 he attended St. Joseph High School.

The academy has played a major role in his development.

“I can’t say enough good things about it,” he stressed. “It was the best decision I made in sports. The coaching is incredible with Jason (Chatwood), Scott (Murray), Taylor Burns and Dwayne Lalor. Those four have given me an incredible opportunity to develop my skills.”

The Grade 12 student believes the academy has something for everyone.

“Some kids come in just to learn the game while others come in to possibly play college ball. No matter what the coaches teach you how to play the game properly, what to do in all situations.

“You have every opportunity to develop as they have an incredible indoor facility. For myself, I have only two classes this semester so it’s amazing how many reps I get in each day.”

If Heath does one day play in “The Show” it will likely be as a pitcher.

“I really like to hit, but if I play at a higher level it’s likely as a pitcher,” he said.

His development over the last three years has been impressive with his fastball reaching 90 mph. He also has an impressive curve.

“My curve is my best off-speed pitch for sure,” he said. “I have worked on a change-up grip and will continue to work on it so I feel comfortable with it.”

Heath came into Grade 10 reaching 75 mph with his fastball. Before the end of the season, it was up to 80.

“In Grade 11 I started the year at about 82 before we were shut down for the winter because of Covid,” he said. “During that time I was able to work out every day … working on my mechanics and in the weight room.

“I was able to put on 10 pounds of muscle and work on limbering up my shoulder so I was able to have more whip. When I got back and was tested again in January I had jumped to 90.

‘That gave me opportunities to be seen by scouts and to play in the States.”

Hachkowski, along with two other members of the academy, spent time with the TG Dbacks program in Georgia from late-May to mid-July.

“After I got back I attended a couple of events and was seen by the coach of a high school-aged team from Ontario, that tours the States. Their coach talked with Jason about me.”

Heath joined the Ontario Blue Jays for their 35-day, 13-State tour, competing against many major universities such as Florida State and Virginia Tech.

“It was a great experience,” he said,

He returned home and finished the season off with the Red Deer Carstar Braves U18AAA squad, who he expects to be with next summer.

“I’d like to finish off playing with my friends,” he said.

As for now, he’s on a two-month break, something his shoulder needs.

“My shoulder is a bit sore, a bit swollen so it’s good to take a break,” he said. “It’s nothing to be worried about.”

Once back Heath believes his velocity will continue to rise.

“I’ll continue to get stronger and the coaches feel I certainly haven’t reached my ceiling.”

As for down the road, there’s little doubt Heath will be playing south of the border at either a junior college or Division I university.

If he attends a junior college, he believes he’ll be able to pitch and play in the field.

“I’ve talked with several schools already and they said I could do both, but if I attend a Division I school I’ll likely just pitch.”

Heath will ultimately decide where he’ll end up, but also listen to what the coaching staff at St. Joe’s has to say.

“All the coaches have good connections and they’ll set me up with a good school. I trust their word.”

Heath believes Chatwood will play a role in his future as he hopes to possibly play with the Sylvan Lake Gulls.

“Once I get into college,” he said. “I’d love to play with Jason as much as I can.”

Baseball is the major thing on Heath’s mind and that may play a role in what he does this winter.

“I played basketball in Grade 10, but last year was cancelled,” he said. “There should be a season this year so I’ll likely come back, but I’ll have to see. I don’t want to get injured.”

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at danrode@shaw.ca