From ‘Baby Shark’ to great white, Heilman develops into reliable ace, leader for Freeport

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Tuesday, May 7, 2019 | 4:59 PM


Jarrett Heilman first heard “Baby Shark” in ninth-grade social studies, when teacher Daniel Stell played the children’s song and its accompanying dance over the projector in the classroom. And when he threw a complete game later that afternoon in a junior varsity game against Knoch, a phenomenon was born.

“I was like, you know what? That was good luck — it must be a thing,” Heilman recalled two years later. “I was like, from now on, ‘Baby Shark’ every day before the game.”

Heilman turned the earworm into a pump-up song, listing it as the tune he’d use if Freeport players had walk-up music for their at-bats. He and his Yellowjackets teammates play it on long bus rides to road games, along with other children songs like “The Duck Song” and “The Wheels on the Bus.”

Forget Eminem — Freeport loses itself to children’s songs, and Heilman is the ringleader. The junior right-hander is all grown up now, pitching the Yellowjackets (12-5, 9-2) to the brink of the Section 1-4A championship with some eye-popping numbers: 5-1 record, 0.77 ERA, four walks and 75 strikeouts in just 45 1/3 innings pitched.

Put simply, opponents facing Heilman typically are going to need a bigger bat.

“He’s more mature, and you can just see his self-confidence,” Freeport coach Ed Carr said. “Every time he goes out on the mound, he’s confident. There’s no nervousness with him.”

Heilman’s overall transformation began with a physical one: He dropped 60 pounds between his sophomore and junior seasons, from 252 pounds down to his current 192.

It began with a conversation with Carr. Though Heilman went 5-0 with a 3.05 ERA in 2018, it came mostly as a relief specialist. He and his mother met with Carr after the season, and when Heilman said he wanted to play college baseball, the coach suggested the best path might begin with a better diet and exercise.

Heilman threw himself into it. Rather than going on a crash diet, Heilman went with something more tailored toward a high school student.

“My idea is anything’s good in moderation,” he said. “I still enjoy the occasional slushie here and there, or maybe a cheeseburger, but nothing over the top.”

He also met up twice a week with Carr and some of his Freeport teammates for robust training sessions over the summer at Freeport Community Park.

“Jarrett’s first couple workouts with me usually ended with him getting sick within about 12 minutes,” Carr said.

Carr closed one early training session with 120-foot resistance sprints, with Heilman pulling teammate Joseph Hotalski. The grass was slick, and Hotalski slipped and fell — unbeknownst to Heilman, who dragged his prone teammate for more than half the distance.

“I was just completely gassed, but I was just focused on getting to that 120 mark as fast as I could,” Heilman said. “I was running, and then when I stopped and looked back I saw Joseph facedown on the ground, sprawled out. Coach Carr was dying laughing.”

Carr said Heilman’s dedication made him into a more mature pitcher and a better leader.

Heilman isn’t the baby shark anymore for Freeport — instead, he’s a great white, pitching an inexperienced Freeport team to first place in the section going into Wednesday’s section finale against Deer Lakes at Freeport Community Park.

For his part, Heilman credited 2018 seniors Brodey Cowan and Sean Furlong for taking him under their wing last season and teaching him the ropes.

“I was the little sophomore,” Heilman said, then corrected himself. “I wasn’t little, actually. I was the sophomore, and they kind of showed me the ropes. It was like I was one of the seniors. I felt welcomed there.”

Heilman mixes four pitches — a mid-80s fastball, changeup, curveball and recently developed slider — and keeps hitters off balance. His one loss this season came against Deer Lakes, a 2-1 defeat April 17, and he threw a three-hit shutout in his most recent start, a 3-0 win over Steel Valley that put Freeport into first place.

Like a certain family of sharks, Heilman and Freeport are on the hunt.

“Our kids know he’s not invincible, but when they go out, they play looser because they know they’re probably going to get a good start from him,” Carr said. “If they do their part, they’re going to have a chance. You can just see the team’s confidence every time he goes on the mound.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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