They proudly cheer for a convicted child molester.
That is what the orange-and-black-dressed faithful of the Oregon State baseball program — a national powerhouse that will be making its seventh appearance at the College World Series later this week — have done all season. It is what they did every time Luke Heimlich, one of the nation’s best pitchers, walked off the mound for the Beavers.
The cheers were evident in the Corvallis Regional when he scattered six hits and allowed one run in a 14-1 win over LSU, and again this past weekend when he stepped off the mound for the last time at Goss Stadium (Oregon State’s home ballpark) after striking out nine hitters in the team’s Super Regional opening win over Minnesota. The fans even gave him a standing ovation which prompted the traditional tip of the cap.
You would be hard-pressed to find another admitted sexual abuser of children to be treated with such kindness — much less that level of adoration.
For those who don’t know, Heimlich is a dominant southpaw with 36 wins and 377 strikeouts in four seasons with the Beavers and a slew of honors including being named the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year twice. Before last year’s CWS, Heimlich was viewed as a player who could help the Beavers win their third national title and he was headed to the pros as a projected late first-round or early second-round draft pick.
Then came the revelation.
The (Portland) Oregonian broke the story last June that Heimlich was a convicted child molester. Heimlich had pled guilty to child molestation in 2012 when he was 15 years old. The victim was his then 6-year-old niece. In court documents, Heimlich hand wrote, “I admit that I had sexual contact with my niece.” A second charge, stemming from an incident when the girl was 4, was dropped as part of the plea bargain.
Heimlich received 40 weeks at Washington’s Juvenile Rehabilitation authority but it was suspended after two years of probation. The future Beaver star also entered a diversion program, took part in sex offender treatment for two years and had to register a Level I sex offender.
The only reason the conviction had come to light was because Heimlich let his registration lapse.
In the wake of the news, Heimlich excused himself from the team, which fell short of winning the title as it lost twice to LSU at the CWS. He has since stated that he never touched his niece in a sexual fashion.
“I always denied anything ever happened,” Heimlich told the New York Times. “Even after I pled guilty, which was a decision me and my parents thought was the best option to move forward as a family. And after that, even when I was going through counseling and treatment, I maintained my innocence the whole time.”
The mother of the child still proclaims that Heimlich abused her daughter.
The scandal caused Heimlich to go undrafted last year, and so he returned to the school and has helped his team this season to the brink of a title. When the 2018 MLB Draft was completed this past week, a total of 1,214 players were selected by teams. Heimlich was not one of them.
Even though he has professed his innocence and is immensely gifted, Heimlich is radioactive. Except to the fans of Oregon State that is.
We have seen this play out in recent years, most notably at Penn State and Baylor, where towering figures are cast out due to incompetence or being complicit to heinous acts such as the sexual abuse of children or the rape of young women were tolerated or covered up, or both. Yet, a large section of those fans bases railed against their beloved coaches or athletes being fired or criticized — fandom run amok.
The situation at Oregon State is slightly different in that the person has already served said time and is not facing a trial or suspension or anything of that matter. Heimlich also performed the acts while he was a minor himself, and there are hundreds — if not thousands — of cases of people pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit.
But here’s the thing. He still confessed to molesting his niece who was 6 years old at the time, and he was still convicted of said crime. By allowing him to continue to take the mound, and to be loudly cheered for his accomplishments, it helps normalize child sexual abuse.
The Beavers fans are showing with their loud applause that they believe Heimlich either did not molest his niece and that she is a liar, or that he has paid his “dues” for the malicious behavior in his youth and shouldn’t be punished anymore.
If you want a glimpse on why so many rapes and child molestations go unreported or are investigated halfheartedly, then look no further than the reaction of those fine folks in Corvallis, Oregon, or Waco, Texas, or State College, Pennsylvania.
Make no mistake about it, people absolutely do deserve second chances.
Individuals who have been to prison or have a record should be allowed to make a living. And I am sure his bachelor’s degree, and now a clean record, will help Heimlich do all of that.
The fact that he may never play professional ball is not a travesty as some have suggested. The countless women and children who are sexually abused every single day and spend the rest of their lives carrying that horror with them is the real travesty — not being able to play baseball is not.
The Oregon State fans could, and should, see that if they weren’t so busy blindly cheering on their team.
RAYMOND PARTSCH III is managing editor of The Daily Iberian.