Captain Coyote: Woodbury native Hans Heggernes leads Cottage Grove
Hans Heggernes’ parents had to repaint the garage door a few times when he was growing up in Woodbury.
“I would see if I could hit the spots from as many different angles as I could,” Heggernes said.
And when he eventually had to go inside, the drills carried on. He would toss balls at the stairs to emulate bad hops he would have to corral.
No matter where he was, Heggernes had a glove on. Even if he was watching television on the couch, he would be tossing a ball into the the piece of leather that seemed to always be appended to his left hand.
Years later, not much has changed.
Heggernes, a 2005 Woodbury High School grad, leads the Cottage Grove Coyotes in batting average, on base percentage, total hits, RBI, runs scored and stolen bases.
This comes from a guy who was known as a defensive specialist throughout his high school and collegiate careers.
It would have been tough to predict the sizzling start from Heggernes. While he’s provided a nice bat for the Coyotes since he first put on the Cottage Grove jersey in 2007, Heggernes had what he called his worst year a summer ago when he batted just .245.
“I knew that wasn’t me and I wanted to work hard to make sure that the 2014 season was different,” Heggernes said.
So over the winter he led a group of Coyotes who put in ample work in the cages working on their swings. For Heggernes, 27, the diligence has paid off.
He has a chance to break a couple of Coyotes season offensive records, a few of which -- stolen bases, runs and hits (tied) -- he already owns.
Heggernes said stats are fun to look at, but he tries to not let them consume him. At the same time, attempting to keep his numbers going at their current pace provides some added drive.
“You try not to look at it and try not to let it affect you,” he said. “But when you’re hitting the way you are, the only way to keep those statistics up is to really get a hit almost every single time. For me I really think it helps me focus and make sure I’m 100 percent focused on every single pitch and every single at bat. I can really make every swing, every opportunity count.”
Focus and effort are two areas where Heggernes doesn’t know how to give anything less than 100 percent. Coyotes player-manager Randy Schmidt appointed Heggernes to be the captain of the squad a few years ago because of the leadership abilities he possessed. That role has led to a nickname for Heggernes -- ‘Captain Coyote.’
“I always try to lead by example. I’m a huge advocate of respecting the game. If everybody respects the game and puts everything into it while they’re between the lines, good things happen,” he said. “I get to help with making decisions and Randy really has a lot of trust in me and my baseball knowledge. It’s fun. I love being ‘Captain Coyote.’”
The only thing un-Coyote about Heggernes on the field are the Winona State helmet and undershirts he dons on game days as he honors his alma mater.
“He can’t let it go, I guess,” Coyotes pitcher Matt Ruben, a fellow Warriors alum, joked.
Heggernes leads on the field and in the batting order. Schmidt said it helps a lot having a guy at the top of the order who consistently gets on base.
“If he took out [his hits], our batting average as a team would be pretty poor this year,” Schmidt joked. “It’s been huge that he’s had a nice start. Hopefully the rest of us can catch up to him a little bit and balance things out. He’s been great.”
Schmidt said it’s nice to see Heggernes develop to the point where his bat is finally catching up to his glove. The Coyotes manager said Heggernes has the best glove in the Twin Cities Mens Adult Baseball League.
That’s something Ruben noticed about Heggernes early on as the two played together at Winona State.
“He’d make plays during practices and during scrimmages, so he was just really slick with his glove,” Ruben said. “He’s a pretty small guy, so he has a lot of range and the ability to field his position at shortstop.”
Ruben was so impressed with Heggernes that he told Schmidt the Coyotes had to have him.
“[Ruben] said ‘hey, I’ve got a shortstop that we can’t pass up on,’” Schmidt said.
And while Heggernes played for rival Woodbury in high school he was immediately welcomed onto a squad filled primarily with Park grads. He’s currently the only Woodbury native on the Coyotes roster.
“Hans is an easy-going, good guy and he won us over pretty quickly,” Schmidt said. “Especially with his abilities and his personality.”
Schmidt described Heggernes as a “baseball junkie.” That much becomes clear from taking a brief peek at his weekly schedule. Heggernes plays slowpitch softball on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and fastpitch softball on Thursdays. But he doesn’t schedule any softball on the weekends.
“The weekends are reserved for baseball,” he said. “Obviously baseball is at the top of the list and it takes hold over everything else.
Still, no matter the sport, Heggernes said anytime he can swing a bat and make plays in the field, he’s there.
“He’s just always at a diamond,” Schmidt said. “He just can’t get enough of it. I think that’s a big reason for his success.”
Heggernes has even taken up coaching the game. He’s coached Mahtomedi’s freshmen team in each of the past two springs.
Heggernes said he has an interest in furthering his coaching career in the future, but he’s not in any hurry. He doesn’t coach in the summer, because it would eat into his playing time.
“Baseball’s always been a huge part of my life. … I love sharing the insight that I’ve picked up, so I definitely see myself coaching as long as I can,” Heggernes said. “But as long as my legs are working and my arm hasn’t fallen off I’m going to be playing about as much ball as possible.