Heaney, speaking via Zoom on Wednesday, is one of the leaders of the team -- or lead bulls as manager Joe Maddon calls them -- and is set to accept the honor for the first time in his six-year career.
"It’s great," Heaney said. "I’m ready to get playing. I’ve said it before, I don’t really care where. It’s an honor to be first, but just being in the rotation and trying to achieve a team-oriented goal is more important to me. I’m excited, and hope it happens this time around."
Heaney pitched in an intrasquad game at Angel Stadium on Tuesday and came away pleased with his outing. He threw four innings and allowed a two-run homer to Brian Goodwin, but he struck out four, including Mike Trout. Heaney is on track to reach a normal pitch count by the time the season starts.
“I felt really good,” Heaney said. “Mechanically, physically feel good with where I’m at. Few things I’d like to clean up, but if this was a normal Spring Training, I’d feel really good with where I’m at.”
Maddon said naming Heaney the starter for the regular-season opener came down to more than just his numbers, as he looked at Heaney’s impact with the club and the community as well. Heaney fits in well as one of the team’s lead bulls and has impressed Maddon with his thoughtfulness.
“He’s a very bright young man," Maddon said. "This guy, he has some layers to him. He’s not a superficial young man playing baseball. When you speak with him, you can see the answer is not being thrown at you lightly. It’s well thought out. I picked up on that in Spring Training. And the lead bulls call we’ve done, it comes through on that also."
This marks Heaney’s sixth season with the Angels, and he has also taken on a leadership role as the club’s union representative, which gave him an inside look into the negotiations and logistics of bringing baseball back in the midst of a pandemic. Heaney believes Major League Baseball has done a good job with the protocols so far and feels safe at the ballpark.
“I can only speak to our staff, everyone’s been unbelievable with the way they’ve handled it -- the professionalism, the genuine care and responsibility that those people feel to keep the clubhouse safe. And to not only keep players, not in line, but understanding what the rules and guidelines are, our player group is taking it very seriously,” Heaney said. “I feel comfortable, I really do.”
Heaney, though, said the Angels will be taking extra precautions away from the ballpark to ensure that none of the roughly 120 members of Tier 1 and Tier 2 expose themselves to COVID-19. They held a Zoom call last week to reiterate those mandates, which will especially be important to adhere to while on the road.
“We’re not going to go to restaurants,” Heaney said. “As information changes, we’re going to be flexible. But right now, if you're not at the field, if you’re not in your car, if you’re not in your house, you need to wear a mask. It doesn’t matter if we’re in a state that doesn’t enforce it, it doesn’t matter, you’re going to wear a mask. If you’re getting food, get it to-go, get it delivered, don’t go sit down and eat somewhere, don’t go to bars, don’t go to large gatherings.
"Most of those are common sense, and everyone should be doing that, but we just want to make sure everybody’s on the same page.”