Lehigh baseball head coach Sean Leary recalls freshman infielder Ethan Heller’s first big hit during preseason. He said Heller had a fire in his eyes, even despite his quiet demeanor.
Heller began playing baseball when he was 5 years old. He said he developed a passion for it at 12, devoting his athletics to the single sport and training for it year-round. When he was 14, he decided he wanted to pursue Division 1 collegiate baseball.
A recognized player on the men’s baseball team, Heller ranked as the 117th-best player in Pennsylvania and the 20th-ranked second baseman coming out of high school.
When recruiting, Leary said the coaches look for “high character young men who are instant in balancing the challenges of playing Division I baseball and achieving high in the classroom.”
Leary said Heller exemplified that description and said his skill as a teammate has been evident for a long time.
The coaches were most attracted to his hitting ability, which will help the team’s offense immensely, Leary said.
“He’s done an outstanding job at finding a way to contribute and finding a way to be supportive when he’s not on the baseball side,” Leary said. “He has a smile on his face everyday.”
Heller is recovering from minor injuries but always keeps a positive spirit and mentality, which the team regards as just as important as his performance on the field, Leary said.
Leary said he was impressed by Heller’s ability to offer what the team needs at the right time, voicing insightful input during a rigorous drill known as the “Mountain Challenge.”
Heller’s teammates share a similar sentiment.
“He’s honestly one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life,” freshman catcher Adam Retzbach said. “He doesn’t have anything bad to say about anyone, never complains about anything, and he’s just a great kid. He just really wants the team to succeed.”
Heller was attracted to Lehigh for the university’s academic strength, high-quality coaching staff and close-knit team.
His character is evident outside of baseball. He works hard in his studies in the College of Business and, outside of school, Heller enjoys doing philanthropic work, visiting micro-communities in Africa with his father’s humanitarian organization.
Heller said he has learned a lot from baseball — such as time management, independence and working hard. Most importantly, however, baseball has allowed him to develop mental strength, he said.
“(Baseball is) a huge mental game,” Heller said. “There’s a constant battle with yourself. Baseball is a sport of failure, and a sport of failure can be very difficult mentally for some players — and that’s something everybody has to overcome.”
Heller said he has high expectations and a good feeling for this season, and seasons to come. He said he was impressed with the team’s performance just in the preseason alone.
The team’s ultimate goal for the season is to win the Patriot League Championship, but the more immediate goal is to grow as a team and improve every day, Retzbach said.
Leary also sees the team having a promising future.
“This team has had a mindset of ‘I don’t care where I play, when I play, (or) where I bat. If Coach (Leary) chooses to use me, I’m going to help the team win, but if I’m not starting, I’ll keep pushing my guy who’s ahead of me,’” Leary said. “That’s a unique trait for 33 guys to share.”
Heller and the Mountain Hawks hope to bounce back from losses against Davidson when they travel to Richmond on Feb. 21 for a three-game series.