Oregon State's top pitcher, who as a teenager pleaded guilty to molesting a 6-year-old girl, released a statement Friday saying he has asked to be excused from playing.
Luke Heimlich said in the statement that he didn't want to be a distraction to the team, which began play in the NCAA super regionals on Friday evening against Vanderbilt. Heimlich's attorney, Stephen Ensor, released the statement just hours before the game.
"I'm so proud of our team's accomplishment and don't want to be a distraction therefore I've respectfully requested to be excused from playing at this time," Heimlich said in the statement.
He also said, "I have taken responsibility for my conduct when I was a teenager."
Heimlich was cheered by the crowd at Goss Stadium when his name was announced with the rest of the Beavers in pregame introductions. He was in uniform.
The Beavers won the opening game of the best-of-three series 8-4. Afterward, coach Pat Casey commented about Heimlich for the first time. The decision to play would be Heimlich's, the coach said.
"He's a team guy and in his statement he said that he didn't want to be a distraction," Casey said. "I can just tell you that he is a fine young man and every second that he's been on this campus, on and off the field, he's been a first-class individual, one that his family should be proud of, your community should be proud of, our team is proud of. I believe in Luke."
Heimlich's criminal history was first reported by The Oregonian/OregonLive (http://bit.ly/2s0uFD8) on Thursday. In an editorial accompanying the article, the newspaper said it learned about Heimlich's 2012 conviction in Washington State while doing a routine background check before running a profile on him.
Prosecutors initially charged Heimlich with two counts of molestation for abuse that began when the girl was 4, The Oregonian said.
Heimlich ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of molestation between February 2011 and December 2011, a period during which he was 15. Prosecutors dismissed the other charge as part of a plea bargain.
He entered a diversion program, received two years of probation and was ordered to attend sex offender treatment for two years, according to court records. He was sentenced to 40 weeks of detention at Washington's Juvenile Rehabilitation authority. But that sentence was suspended and he served no time, according to court records, because he successfully completed probation.
Heimlich was classified in Washington state as the lowest-level sex offender with little risk of repeating the behavior. He finished his probation and court-ordered classes in fall 2014, around the time he moved to Corvallis to attend Oregon State.
"As a 16-year-old I was placed on juvenile court probation and ordered to participate in an individual counseling program. I'm grateful for the counseling I received and since then I realized the only way forward was to work each day on becoming the best person, community member and student I can possibly be," Heimlich said in Friday's statement. "I understand many people now see me differently but I hope I can eventually be judged by the person I am today."
Heimlich's attorney said that "Luke has conducted himself as a model student-athlete since the day he walked on to campus."
Oregon State could not comment in detail on the matter, citing student privacy rules.
"I want to make clear that each day the safety and security of our students at Oregon State University is our number one priority. Our policies and procedures provide a safe learning environment for our community and seek to ensure that all prospective and current students are treated fairly and equitably," Oregon State President Ed Ray said in a statement.
Heimlich is the top pitcher on Oregon State's No. 1-ranked team, compiling an 11-1 record with a 0.76 ERA. The left-hander from Puyallup, Washington, is also projected to be an early round pick in next week's Major League Baseball draft.
Jake Thompson (14-0) started and won for Oregon State on Friday. The Beavers have won 20 straight games.