TAMPA, Fla. — Yankees outfield prospect Slade Heathcott was penciled into the lineup for Thursday’s road exhibition game against the Pirates. But as the team was leaving for Bradenton, manager Joe Girardi erased Heathcott’s name.
Said Girardi, “He missed the bus.”
No young player who is trying to open eyes in spring training can afford such a transgression, Heathcott least of all. The now 25-year-old battled alcohol abuse as a teenager, a problem that continued after the Yankees drafted him in the first round in 2009 and signed him for a $2.2-million bonus.
In his first spring training, Heathcott overslept and missed an exhibition game. That was six years ago.
That it happened again is a tremendous source of embarrassment for Heathcott, who has drawn praise for turning his life around with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. He finally reached the majors with the Yankees last season and hit .400 with two home runs in 17 games.
“It was an immature decision that was disrespectful to not only this team but all the fans, people who have to wake up and go to work every day,” Heathcott said on Saturday, referring to his latest issue. “It was an honest mistake. Just didn’t wake up. It was my mistake.”
Heathcott said he called the team when he did wake up and headed on his own to Bradenton, which is about 45 miles south of Tampa.
Unfortunately for Heathcott, the massive Sunshine Skyway Bridge — the main connector on the way to Bradenton — was closed because of fog. Of all the days.
Heathcott had to circle around on the Tampa-area interstates to make it to Bradenton. Once he did, he had to navigate the traffic-choked streets around the ballpark. The crowd was larger than usual because the Yankees were in town.
Heathcott arrived at 12:30 for the 1 p.m. game and went straight to find Girardi.
“They were very understanding about it,” he said. “They know I didn’t do it on purpose. That’s the last thing that I want to do. Especially with my past and all that stuff, those things become a bigger issue for me. I’ve worked really hard to try to mature past that point. Not only that, just to change the reputation, and things like that can really set you back. Like I told them, ‘There’s no excuse. It doesn’t matter what’s going on. That is unacceptable.’ ”
The Yankees agreed. Heathcott did not play Friday or Saturday. But general manager Brian Cashman said on Friday that he considers the matter closed and has no reason to believe it is part of a larger problem.
“Joe handled it,” Cashman said.
As a prospect, Heathcott seems to be nearly out of time because of a spate of injuries that have kept him from playing in more than 103 games in any season. But the lefthanded hitter showed flashes of talent in his brief cameo with the Yankees last season. The highlight was a go-ahead three-run homer in the ninth inning at Tropicana Field on Sept. 14 to power the Yankees to a 4-1 victory over the Rays.
“Dream come true,” Heathcott said. “It was awesome.”
Heathcott, who is 1-for-22 this month, is ticketed for his second season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“Still working on some stuff,” he said. “I’ll get there.”
Hopefully, before it’s too late.