From the shade of the first-base dugout at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, with the sounds of the multi-million dollar renovation project taking place there echoing in the outfield, Headley spoke about his time as a Vol and his career thus far in professional baseball.
Now that you’re playing professionally, do you have a chance to keep up with the program here at UT?
“Oh, a ton, I’m always around. I see all the guys in the weight room. I come down to practice now and again. Coach Raleigh lets me come out here and run around the outfield a little bit to try to get some extra work in. I’m a big supporter, and I wish the team the best.”
Looking back at your time at Tennessee, what stand out as your favorite memories?
“By far, the biggest achievement that we had was going to the College World Series in 2005. Going to Georgia Tech (for the NCAA Super Regional), I will never forget celebrating and dog-piling on the mound. To be honest, that was the most fun I have ever had playing. We won a Double-A championship this past year, but it just was not the same. So I’d say that 2005 run was really memorable … and then just the guys. I keep it touch with so many of the guys from that team. That is the biggest thing I think I take from playing here at Tennessee.”
You were an All-America and an Academic All-America here at Tennessee, and your brother received his master’s degree from UT. Talk about your feelings toward the program and your thoughts on your brother being on staff here now as a volunteer assistant coach.
“It’s awesome. I want the best for this program. It’s different if you’re from Tennessee or if you played at Tennessee. It seems like everybody—like now in a professional clubhouse—they kind of look at you and they don’t understand the pride you take in Tennessee. I feel like every football game we play on Saturday I’m running back and forth to catch the score, and they don’t understand that. I think it’s pretty cool to be part of such strong tradition. All the guys who went here understand and have a real passion—not only for the sport they played but for the other sports as well. And we take pride in whether we win or lose. I’m really excited for my brother to get to be a part of it, and hopefully we are going to turn this program and get it back where it needs to be.”
After spending some time with the new coaching staff, are you confident that they can help the program get back to that championship level?
“Oh, definitely. I think the new coaches are going to do a really good job. You know sometimes you just need a little change to mix things up, and I think that is what was needed. And I think they are going to do really well. I know they are going to do a really good job and work really hard to get the job done. There is no reason that Tennessee shouldn’t be a perennial powerhouse.”
In what ways did your time at Tennessee help prepare you for your professional baseball career?
“Playing in the SEC is a huge advantage. It’s almost like when you go from SEC baseball to your first level in pro ball, it’s almost a step backwards. There are so many good players in the SEC. It really prepares you for the kind of players that you are going to face in pro ball. And it helps you because you’ve played in front of good crowds and had fans pull for you and pull against you, depending on where you were. I think that’s neat, and I think that was something that was really helpful in giving me a head start.”
You recently attended the Tennessee Baseball Leadoff Banquet, during which Todd Helton was honored. Did you get a chance to talk to Helton about the one-game playoff between the Padres and the Rockies this past fall? And talk about your experiences in that game.
“It was pretty cool because, at that point, it was the biggest game he had ever been a part of. And he has been around for a long time. We talked about the atmosphere at the game … 50,000 people just going nuts. It was really cool to be a part of that. It’s something that I think I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I don’t anticipate playing in too many games bigger than that, so it was pretty neat.”
When do you leave for Spring Training? Do you know where you are going and what the Padres’ plans are for you this season?
“I have to report on February 18, but I am going to go down a little early to get settled in and just get a little extra work in. You really never know what the plans are. I’m playing a little outfield now. The Padres need some help in the outfield. I think if I go in and play well in Spring Training and show that I can play the outfield, I think I have a pretty decent shot to make the club out of Spring Training. And if that doesn’t happen then I will probably be in Triple-A which is in Portland, Ore.”
You made your Major League debut at famous Wrigley Field last season. Talk about that experience.
“It was incredible. I don’t think you can write it up any better. Wrigley field is just so historic and there are so many cool things that have happened there. It’s been around so long, it was a dream come true. I had never been there before, so the first time I get there I’m playing on it. You know, you see it from the outside and nothing is really that nice about it. The stadium is not nice; it’s old, the locker rooms are small, but it’s Wrigley Field … just unbelievable. When you walk out of the tunnel it smells like baseball. And then the atmosphere and the baseball … I don’t think there is anything else or atmosphere like that in any sport. Not only baseball but any sport. I don’t think I could have written it up any better.”
Where you able to have family in attendance for that game?
“I had pretty much all my family come. I had 20-some people. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get everyone tickets, but they found their way in somehow. It was really cool to have all my family and friends there for that.”
How do you feel your game has improved after getting the chance to play at the Major League level and learn from veterans?
“I think the biggest thing is just consistency. It’s coming out day in and day out and not really being on a roller coaster … you know, getting real hot and then cold. You have to come out every day and try to produce, and not get too high or too low. I think that is the biggest difference between the big leagues and anywhere else. Those guys can go in day in and day out for 162 games and produce consistently. And that is the biggest difference.”
How do the Major Leagues compare to minor league baseball?
I jumped from Double-A to the big leagues, and the jump was not nearly as big as I expected it to be. Once you get to Double-A, you are right there on the edge of making it. And if you can be successful at Double-A, there is a good chance that you will be successful in the bigs. Having said that, obviously, playing in the Major Leagues is a lot different than the minor leagues. There’s a lot more on your mind as far as media and fans. There is just so much more going on. It’s easy to get caught up in that stuff instead of focusing on the game itself. As far as the jump, it was not as big as I thought it might be, but the outside things make up for that and make it a little tougher.”
What’s the best part of playing Major League Baseball?
“You can’t really explain it. It really is everything you want it to be. From the fans to the travel …everything. It just makes it so rewarding to finally get there. You put up with a lot of not-so-favorable conditions in the minor leagues with the long travel and the bad food and no money. And once you get up there to the bigs, it’s kind of like, ‘Finally, I made it!’ It’s back pay almost. You’ve been putting up with so much. So I’d say it’s the whole experience in itself. There’s not one thing that I could single out.”