Luke Heimlich, College Star Convicted of Sex Crime, Quietly Makes Pro Debut in Mexico

Sports|Luke Heimlich, College Star Convicted of Sex Crime, Quietly Makes Pro Debut in Mexico
ImageLuke Heimlich, College Star Convicted of Sex Crime, Quietly Makes Pro Debut in Mexico
Luke Heimlich, making his professional debut with Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos, allowed two runs in a five inning start on Tuesday.CreditCreditManuel Guadarrama/Getty Images

Luke Heimlich, the former Oregon State star who had failed to land a job in professional baseball after the revelation that he had pleaded guilty to sexually molesting his 6-year-old niece when he was 15, quietly made his pro debut in Mexico on Tuesday.

Even after Heimlich signed a deal with the Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos of the Liga Mexicana de Béisbol last month, it was unclear whether he would be permitted to play for them: The president of the Mexican league immediately cast doubt on the approval of the contract, citing Heimlich’s past conduct and the message the league might send by employing him. As recently as Monday, The Laredo Morning Times reported that the team said it was awaiting clearance from the league to use Heimlich.

But a day later, Heimlich, 23, was on the mound facing the Algodoneros Union Laguna at the Estadio de la Revolución in Torreón, Mexico. He allowed two runs in a five-inning start and struck out five batters.

The league had actually informed the Tecolotes on Saturday that Heimlich’s contract had been authorized, the Tecolotes owner José Antonio Mansur said in a phone interview on Wednesday. The league president, Javier Salinas, had not responded to repeated requests for comment since Saturday, when a line in the league’s official transactions stated that Heimlich had been assigned to the Tecolotes. On Friday, Salinas had said in a message on WhatsApp that a decision on Heimlich’s contract had not yet been made.

Salinas had questioned the move when Heimlich signed with the Tecolotes in March, saying he had to “protect the image of the league.” The team said it was attracted to Heimlich because of his low-90s fastball as a left-hander, and said it felt he deserved a chance at a pro career after serving his legal penalty. But the signing drew criticism from the victim’s family, and Salinas indicated the league would have to closely examine it.

“The player has to have irreproachable conduct and be a good representative of the team and the league,” he said last month. “Like any league, we have to verify that all of our entrants have good conduct. We are an example to a lot of boys and girls.”

The Tecolotes, who have an unusual arrangement with home stadiums on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, were the second professional team to sign Heimlich. In August, the Lamigo Monkeys in Taiwan reached a deal with the pitcher, but after public outcry, the Chinese Professional Baseball League declared that he could not play there because of his criminal background and the potential effect on the league’s image.

ImageLuke Heimlich, College Star Convicted of Sex Crime, Quietly Makes Pro Debut in Mexico
Luke Heimlich with the Oregon State Beavers last year.CreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

All 30 major league teams passed on drafting or signing Heimlich, although all were allowed to do so.

Last May, in an interview with The New York Times, Heimlich denied that he had committed the crime he admitted to, saying he had pleaded guilty to quickly dispense with the case and for the sake of the family. The victim’s mother, whose name is being withheld to protect her daughter’s identity, has maintained that the girl’s account is truthful.

As part of a plea deal, reached when Heimlich was 16, one of two charges was dropped. He was placed on two years’ probation, took court-ordered classes, wrote a letter apologizing to his niece and was forced to register for five years as a Level 1 sex offender, a designation the State of Washington uses for someone considered of low risk to the community and unlikely to become a repeat offender. His juvenile records are sealed.

Mansur, the Tecolotes’ owner, said the team and the league had either spoken with Heimlich or requested paperwork regarding his case. Last month, the league, which is affiliated with Minor League Baseball and is considered Class AAA, even took the unusual step of asking Heimlich to sign a letter vowing good behavior.

When city officials in Laredo, Tex., learned of Heimlich’s signing, they sent letters to the team notifying them of a city ordinance that prohibits sex offenders at city parks and Uni-Trade Stadium, where the Tecolotes play in Texas. The team provided records from Oregon that showed Heimlich no longer needed to register as a sex offender because his juvenile conviction was expunged, said Rafael Benavides, a spokesman for the city of Laredo.

“Our Laredo Police Department also confirmed that the player’s background check reflects no conviction criminal history information in the Washington State Patrol files,” Benavides said in a statement. “As it stands, the player is not required to register with the State of Texas and has an affirmative defense under our city ordinance.”

Heimlich would have his first chance to play in Texas next week when the Tecolotes return from a road trip.

“There is nothing that could have prevented him from signing in the league,” Mansur said in Spanish, adding, “in reality, I hope the past is left behind for the future.”

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