BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Jonah Heim wears his hometown pride on his sleeve, a tattoo of Buffalo’s skyline decorating the All-Star catcher’s arm.
Helping the Texas Rangers win the World Series with clutch hitting and Gold Glove-caliber defense in the playoffs, Heim will become the first Western New York high school graduate in 39 years to play for the winning team in Major League Baseball’s Fall Classic.
“It’s something you work for your entire life,” Heim told MLB Network before playing in Game 1. “You dream about it, you put in all the work, and it comes to fruition. I couldn’t be happier to be here.”
The first WNY native in a decade to play in the World Series, following Kevin Siegrist, a relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013 who was raised in Lewiston before moving Florida as a high school freshman, Heim was the first position player to start in the World Series since Orchard Park’s Dave Hollins played third base for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993.
He is the first local to win the World Series since Mark Guthrie, a relief pitcher for the Minnesota Twins in 1991 who was born in Buffalo while his father was president of the Bisons, and the first graduate of an area high school since Bill Scherrer (Cardinal O’Hara) pitched for the Detroit Tigers in the 1984 World Series.
Heim’s achievements at the highest level are a source of pride on the ballfields back home, and two of his biggest supporters shared in the experience. Amherst Tigers baseball coach Brian Davis, and Matt Connolly, a close friend and high school teammate of Heim’s made the trip to Arlington for the first two games of the World Series.
Davis has attended dozens of playoff baseball games in Cleveland, but this was his first time at the World Series.
“I couldn’t pick a better one to go to my first,” said Davis, who flew to Texas with his father Friday morning after attending Thursday night’s Bills game, “than to see Jonah on the biggest stage that you can possible be on as a baseball player.”
Davis and Connolly have been there for each step on Heim’s journey. From when his family moved across Niagara Falls Boulevard, transferring the lanky switch hitter who played varsity for Kenmore East as a freshman. They saw scouts from every MLB team visit Amherst before Heim was drafted in the fourth round by the Baltimore Orioles in 2013, followed Heim around the minor league circuit before he made his big league debut with the Oakland A’s in 2020
It seemed that the crowing achievement would be Heim’s historic homecoming in 2021, when he became the first Buffalonian in a century to play an MLB game in his home city during the Blue Jays’ residency at Sahlen Field, and received a standing ovation from the crowd.
But that was before Heim, two summers ago backing up for a last-place team, emerged as one of the top players for a championship contender.
Already one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, Heim broke out at the plate in his second season as an every day player, batting .258 with 18 home runs and 95 RBIs. He was voted by fans to start for the American League in the All-Star Game. Also a Gold Glove finalist, Heim rated third in MLB with 10 catcher framing runs, and was top five in catching 33% of runners stealing second base.
Hitting .245 in the postseason, Heim had two home runs and batted in four runs in the ALCS. He knocked in the go-ahead run in three of the Rangers’ victories in the seven-game series.
“It’s been amazing,” Heim told MLB Network. “We’ve had this goal since day one of spring training, and it’s becoming a reality. We know it wasn’t going to be easy to get here. And it took seven games against Houston to get here. So it’s kind of poetic justice to do it against your division rival to get to the World series. We are happy that series is over and we are looking forward to the challenge that is the Diamondbacks.”
Heim defines a World Series rooting interest for all of WNY, far beyond the family and friends he grew up with in Tonawanda and Amherst.
“It’s really important because this is such a tough area for baseball players to come out,” Davis said. “Just to make it to Division I is hard, and to do what Jonah has done is even more miraculous. It’s great for parents of young players, and it’s giving the City of Buffalo someone to root for.”
Heim hopes his success inspires young players back in home.
“You don’t see many guys from Buffalo, obviously, because of the weather, and the conditions up there,” Heim told MLBPA in September. “I grew up a huge hockey fan. If there was another sport I’d play, it would definitely be hockey. But fell in love with baseball at a very young age and I stuck with it, was given those opportunities to showcase myself, and got drafted.
“It was a long road to big leagues, but we made it.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.
WIVB digital producer Adam Gorski contributed.