MISSOULA — NCAA Division I baseball players are rare across the state of Montana, but one former Missoula Maverick who did just that is back in his hometown coaching for the first time with this year’s Mavs team, as he brings that experience into the fold.
Originally, Slade Heggen never envisioned he would find himself coaching baseball.
But when an assistant coaching job opened for the Missoula Mavericks, Heggen found himself coming back to where it all started.
"It was too good to pass up, it was like full circle, right?" Heggen told MTN Sports. "Started here, went off, time to come back and tie it up with a bow and be happy about it.
"I wasn’t really sure what I was going to be in for. I just figured it was an incredible opportunity to kind of come back with the program that gave me so much and I had, not a summer open, but a summer open and the opportunity, I couldn’t pass up."
Heggen, who graduated from Missoula Loyola Sacred Heart in 2014, was a standout for the Mavs before going on to play baseball at Oregon for three seasons. He then went on to wrap up his college playing career at Gonzaga for two more years. In college, Heggen was a catcher and outfielder.
Now back in Missoula going to law school at Montana while also working at Cranky Sam Public House, his family's brewery, Heggen was contacted to see if he'd be interested in coaching after previous Mavs assistant Trevor Subith left to become the head softball coach at Missoula Big Sky High School. Heggen then jumped at the opportunity.
Not stepping on the field as a player was weird at first, especially in situations where the team is struggling and needing a boost.
Instead, Heggen uses the knowledge he's gained as a player to try and teach, even though that's been fluid as he's continuing to grow and learn in his new job. Confidence especially is an area where he said he's seen himself grow as the season has gone on.
"I didn’t show up day one and had all of my knowledge on a piece of paper and was just ready to give it (a go)," Heggen said with a laugh. "No, it was like, ‘Oh, OK, I noticed that. It’s time to talk to them about that situation.’ Or if they’re struggling with maybe throwing the ball or something very mental, that’s really not physical. I find that I can communicate with them easier in that situation because it’s happened to me so recently.
"In general with the kids, I see a lot of myself in them, so it's pretty easy to talk to them."
With it, Heggen can bring his mentoring from his experiences with college baseball to those on the Mavs who will also head off to the next level, like Mavs captain Zach Hangas.
"I’m going to go pitch at Walla Walla (Community College) next year and so with Slade being a catcher over in college, he helps me realize situations that I might be in here in a couple of years so now I get to practice these situations right now," Hangas said. "So then when I do get to that next level, I know what I’m expecting and what I should do in that certain position."
The Mavericks sit at 14-20 on the American Legion Baseball season after splitting a doubleheader with the Kalispell Lakers on Wednesday night. The Mavs won the first game 9-8 and lost in the second contest 14-11.