They have played in independent leagues in Mexico, Canada, Australia and Italy. From Modesto to Mazatlán, Trois-Rivières to Tacoma, Sioux City to Sioux Falls.
They’re still hitting. They’re still researching. They are still pursuing what they once had and could reclaim at any time.
Kurt Heyer and Konner Wade achieved ultimate fame in college baseball. They formed an indomitable duo for the 2012 Arizona Wildcats and led them to the College World Series Championship.
They combined a 24-5 record with 13 full games that year. Heyer had a 2.24 ERA; Wade limited opponents to a .237 batting average.
Heyer owned the opposition in Omaha; Wade took his game to an even higher level on the sport’s biggest stage. Arizona had a talented, well-rounded team. But it all started with them.
They eventually made the transition to professional baseball and what a journey it has been. Heyer’s baseball reference page could fill a passport booklet. He currently plays for Pericos de Puebla in the Mexican league. Wade works for the Tacoma Rainiers, the Seattle Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate.
Wade briefly made it to the majors in 2021 with the Baltimore Orioles. Heyer, once the best pitcher on the best team in college baseball, never made it.
Ten years on from that unforgettable run to the CWS title, Arizona’s aces are in their 30s with grown-up responsibilities. Wade and his wife Lara have an 18-month-old daughter, Ella. Heyer is engaged and is getting married in October.
They will keep playing the game they love until someone tells them they can’t.
“It’s pure competition,” said Heyer. “You have a ball, the other guy has a bat and you guys are trying to improve each other. It’s 1v1. It’s like, ‘Go on, try to meet him.’
“It’s exciting. I tell people all the time: The day I don’t get butterflies or jitters is the day I retire. And I haven’t had that feeling yet.”
Wade said, “If there was another profession that gave me the same thrill of facing a thug, I would do it. But I haven’t found him yet.
“Luckily someone still allows me to play this game professionally. Until this is over and I can’t put food on the table with it, I’ll keep going.”
Always in command
Heyer was That Guy for the 2012 Wildcats — as effective as any Friday night starter in the country. But he didn’t have exceptional speed or a wipeout pitch. He relied on his unusual command of his fastball.
“The best batter in the game,” said former UA coach Andy Lopez. “I’ve been training for 38 years. I was a pitching coach. I had Josh Fogg. I had Mark Melancon. Guys who played in the big leagues.
“Kurt Heyer could throw it in a thimble on the outside half if you asked him to. His command was spectacular. It wasn’t good. It was spectacular.”
The numbers Heyer released as a junior in 2012 make no sense in today’s game where strikeouts are so prevalent. The right-hander fanned out just 113 batters in 153 innings. He allowed 151 hits. But he only gave up 28 walks for a brilliant 1.17 WHIP.
It was all about finding that upper 80’s fastball.
“Of course I throw in a crease every now and then with my slider,” Heyer said. “But 70% of the time I’m throwing fastballs, and it was just a formula that worked when I was there.”
The St. Louis Cardinals selected Heyer in the sixth round of the 2012 MLB Draft. As he attempted to work his way up through pro ball, Heyer found he needed additional pitches.
“You can’t get through life with fastball and sliders,” said Heyer. “I had to develop a cutter and another off-speed pitch.
“You have to expand the toolbox. I used what I learned in college. Then I had to develop a change. Konner did that so well. He had a change right off the bat.”
Wade had a larger repertoire than Heyer. His pitches had more movement. Controlling them proved to be a formidable challenge in early 2012.
“Definitely a fight”
Estimates vary from 3 feet to 10. Whatever the true distance, Wade was missing the plate. Poorly.
When the Wildcats reunited in January 2012, Wade was ill with Yips. It’s something every baseball player fears. There’s no place for a pitcher to hide.
“I remember the look in that young man’s eyes,” Lopez said. “Like ‘What’s up, Coach?'”
“That was definitely a fight,” Wade said. “It’s something I hadn’t really looked into before. I just came back and didn’t really know where the ball was going.
“My ball was moving a ton, more than usual. It took me the better part of a season to really get that under control.”
A combination of hard work, perseverance, patience and prayer allowed Wade to find his form again. But it wasn’t an easy task.
In a March 21 relief appearance against New Mexico State, Wade allowed four runs in an inning — without giving up a hit. He walked four batters, hit two and threw a wild throw.
In that context, what Wade was able to accomplish in the postseason was truly incredible.
The right-hander made four starts. He won them all. Three were complete games. Wade only allowed five earned runs.
But here’s the real kicker: Wade batted just three times in 35 innings – one fewer than in that relief game against NMSU.
Wade expelled UCLA in Omaha without allowing a walk. In the opener of the CWS Finals, Wade issued a walk and allowed a run against two-time defending champions South Carolina.
“He was spectacular against UCLA and he was lower in the alphabet against South Carolina,” Lopez said. “He was unreal.”
In less than six months, Wade went from a pitcher who couldn’t find the plate to one who couldn’t miss.
“I had flashes of really good games, and then I was pretty bad in the next game,” said Wade, who would play one more season in Arizona before the Colorado Rockies took him to the seventh round of the 2013 draft. “Then I’d have some good and bad.
“It was just a high point getting things back on track. It kind of clicked in the end.”
Farris’ day on
The great irony of the 2012 Arizona championship is that neither Heyer nor Wade started the decisive game.
Wade threw the opener of the best-of-three series against South Carolina. Lopez could have used Heyer three days off in Game 2. Or Lopez could pass the ball to sophomore James Farris – who hadn’t served in more than three weeks – and save Heyer for a possible Game 3.
Lopez had raised the issue with his coaching staff and told both pitchers he would sleep on it when he entered the elevator at the team hotel after Game 1. Alex Mejia, Robert Refsnyder and Joey Rickard – three of Arizona’s best players – also happened to be in the elevator.
Mejia asked Lopez, “Who’s in tomorrow?”
“I don’t know,” Lopez replied. “Who should I throw?”
All three players offered the same answer: Farris.
“I would trust these guys with the keys to my house,” Lopez said. “So I got off the elevator, went straight to Farris’ room and said, ‘I just made the decision. You’re leaving tomorrow.’
“Then I went to Heyer: ‘You’ll come the next day if we need you.’ He says, ‘Okay, I got it, Lopes.’ That’s how it went.
“And man, Farris was good.”
Farris limited the Gamecocks to one run to two hits in 7 2/3 innings. The Wildcats scored three runs in the top of ninth place and won 4-1.
“The fact that he could go in there and just do nails was tremendous for us and a testament to the kind of patience and focus he had,” Heyer said. “Especially in a game like this.”
Heyer wanted to end the game. He wanted to secure the final.
He also knew he might be needed the next day. It was no time to be selfish.
So Heyer, along with Wade, watched as the freshman, closer to the Mathew Troupe, finished South Carolina. They had done more than enough.