Kyle Heath decided to become a catcher in the seventh grade when he realized that in two years, he might have a chance to play on the Westbrook varsity baseball team as a freshman and catch his brother, Scott, who would be a senior.

Catchers are always thinking ahead.

In a crash course on catching, combined with athletic ability, Heath became the Blue Blazes’ starting catcher as a freshman.

“Catching my brother was a lot of fun,” Heath said. “I just learned a lot about catching and he gave me a lot of tips.”

Now a senior, Heath is one of the top catchers in the state. He helped Westbrook win its first Class A state championship since 1951 last season and captured the Telegram League batting title with a .444 average.

As another season starts, the Blazes will be looking to repeat. They lost their top two pitchers through graduation but there’s enough depth returning to lessen the impact.

“When I became head coach two years ago, it was a relief knowing that I would have Kyle for three years as our catcher,” said Greg Souza. “There would be no passed balls, guys wouldn’t steal on us and our pitchers could throw any pitch confidently. Catcher really is the most important position.”

Scott Heath is now a standout at the University of Maine. Kyle Heath will head next season to Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., one of New England’s top Division III programs.

“It just felt like the right fit baseball and academically,” said Heath. “The small classroom size will benefit me.”

After playing several positions besides catcher in Little League, Heath said he struggled at first learning how to be a catcher.

He took lessons from Ryan Baker and Nick Caiazzo at The Edge Academy in Portland and watched a lot of major league catchers on television.

“You can learn a lot by watching,” Heath said. “I started to get some experience and got the hang of it.”

He was ready when spring arrived his freshman year.

Mike Rutherford was Westbrook’s coach at the time.

“We were really good, and for a freshman to walk on and start at catcher shows you right there his talent,” said Rutherford, who now coaches the Portland High junior varsity.

“Right now he’s by far the best defensive catcher around. Westbrook won a bunch of one-run games last season. No one ran on them because of Kyle Heath. That’s a major weapon.”

Heath has caught a variety of pitchers at Westbrook, from his brother and Sean Murphy his first year, to Keenen Lowe and Zack Bean last year, and now Ethan Nash and Andrew St. Clair.

“Every pitcher has their own style,” Heath said. “There are different pitches they like to throw. It’s fun mixing them up and seeing which ones work. With the younger guys you want to get them using both sides of the plate. With the older guys, we’re usually on the same page and you can roll with them.”

Heath is now one of the older guys and a player clearly in charge of the team, although he certainly doesn’t flaunt it.

He was made captain his sophomore and junior seasons, and now is a co-captain.

“Kyle is a pretty inspirational guy,” Nash said. “He gets everyone going. When he needs to be intense, he is. The rest of the time he’s pretty relaxed.”

Souza has so much confidence in Heath’s judgment, he lets him call the pitches. That’s unusual in high school baseball.

“I told him, ‘It’s all yours, Kyle,’ ” Souza said.

“He knows what pitches are working for our guys and the flow of the game. Once in a while I’ll call something like a pitchout. Kyle is usually right with his pitch selections. He just handed me a list of signs we’re going to use this year.”

Nash enters the season as one of the team’s top pitchers. A year ago he had a 3-1 record and pitched 241/3 innings in five appearances.

“Having Kyle behind the plate just takes a huge weight off your shoulders because you know he’ll catch any pitch,” Nash said. “He’s like a wall back there. He’s very smart. I don’t go against any of his calls. He’s saved me a few times.”

As for his improvement as a catcher, Heath said, “I’ve gotten better at framing strikes with my glove to give the umpire a good look.”

Heath said being a catcher has helped his hitting.

“It helps knowing the situation and what to expect for pitches,” he said. “When I see that pitch, I’m ready for it.”

In his first two seasons, Heath showed consistency at the plate with batting averages that were almost identical, .314 as a sophomore and .311 as a freshman. His averaged jumped more than 100 points last season.

“I’m not surprised by that because I know how hard he works,” Souza said.

Heath tries to attend as many of his brother’s games at Maine as he can, but with his own baseball career, it’s tough.

“I talk to him almost every day. It’s just another chance to learn more about baseball,” said Kyle Heath.

Heath was the starting quarterback in football as the Blazes made the playoffs each of the last three years. He played hockey through his sophomore year but gave it up to concentrate on baseball workouts during the winter.

“I couldn’t do it all,” he said.

Winning a state title last spring was a tremendous thrill, said Heath, and the Blazes are still somewhat basking in the glow.

“We’ll be working hard on trying to repeat,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

 

Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:

tchard@pressherald.com

Twitter: TomChardPPH