Some of you might be aware of the allegations that were perpetrated against Yankees' 2009 first-round draft pick Slade Heathcott and his family. After our own article that covered the same rumors, I arranged to speak with his mother, Kimberly, and was able to set the record straight about his history and family.
The following is part one of two of a telephone interview conducted about two weeks ago.
PA: Can you tell us about Slade as a child?
KHJ: He was outgoing, extremely athletically talented. He was a good kid, always was a good student. He loved anything with a ball, from the time he was seven months old, old enough to pick a ball up, he had always had a ball in his hand. He loved any kind of sport, anything he could possibly do athletically. He was a good, very active child, sweet kid.
What was it like raising him?
It was a lot of fun. He started playing soccer when he was four years old, t-ball when he was 4 & ½; he was always a lot of fun. I was a young mother, so it was me and him for the first two years. I was going to college and had him, so it was just he and I most of the time. We stayed busy. He was always a joy to have around. At school age he always had lots of friends, people always loved him, kids always loved him, we always had a house full of kids around, and that always made it really nice, it was always a lot of fun - him and his brother [Zane], almost exactly two years and six months apart; they were good kids, a lot of fun, I really enjoyed them, especially their teenage years. It was a joy.
Is he different now?
No, not really. Happy, outgoing, he's always had a heart of gold, always had a big heart, he's always cared a lot for people, and cared for people's feelings. He's really not any different now than he was, he's still the life of... everything, anywhere he goes, everybody loves him, he keeps everybody entertained for sure, he was always a cut up and loved to joke around, have fun and play with people. He's pretty much about the same - the same person. We had a rough year there for a little while, but other than that it's been a good time.
How did he get the name "Slade"?
Everyone always asks me that. I don't really remember, I was reading a book of some sort, and I was pregnant, thinking of names, on my own, going to school, I was trying to think of names, I didn't know if it was going to be a boy or girl. I want to say I was reading a book one day and I think it had the name "Blade" or something like that, and I thought it was a cool name, and I just started putting other letters with it to see what I could come up with, and that's what I ended up with...
He was probably five or six years old, and that was the first time I ever heard that name again, and it was a guy that was older, about my age, and his parents had named him "Slade," but what I didn't know was that there was an old western character by the name of Jack Slade or something, and I didn't know that. But it's always been a good name, everybody's loved it. It was the perfect name for him. We call him Slade. He's always been called Slade. I've never called him by his first name, Zachary; he's been called Slade since the day he was born.
Can you tell me what happened with his father and why he was imprisoned?
It was a long haul. I can tell you what I know about it. We had already split up and gone our separate ways by the time he got in trouble with the law. He had gotten in a car accident in '95, him and both of the boys, obviously. Apparently he got addicted to pain killers, which I didn't know because I'm ignorant when it comes to drugs, but his problem developed over the years and we had moved to Texarkana, and he had obviously gotten involved with heavier stuff and I was in the restaurant business - I'd opened the restaurant part of a bar and grill, it was a sports bar and grill in the day and a club at night, and he was helping out with security there and some people had got back to me that he was doing other things that added up ... once the boys got to grade school, junior high, he really wasn't around much. He was coming home late at night.
So once I found that out I tried to talk to people and family to try and get some help, get him some help. We had confronted him about it - first he just denied it, but eventually it came to a point where I started having money gone from the accounts, I was trying to run two restaurants at the time and it ended up being a problem. Me and the boys moved out - it was Slade's sophomore year when I took the boys and we moved. He apparently went downhill after that, he was on some pretty heavy stuff; he got pulled over for running with some pretty bad people, got our vehicle impounded for possession and things like that. I believe he actually went to jail, got arrested several times, I believe for possession - this was after we had split up - and he apparently had stolen people's checks and things like that and I guess he got in trouble for forgery, wrote checks out of people's accounts, so I think he got in trouble for that, and that's what he ultimately ended up going to jail for, for the longest period of time.
But it was just a combination of - he got into drugs and it was a tough haul. It was a really tough summer. Zane [Slade's younger brother] - he's been racing since he was six - he was traveling with a pro-team that summer and was gone all summer, so he was spared a lot of this, and Slade wasn't: he was playing ball all summer, I was working a lot of hours. It's tough raising two teenage boys on your own - vehicles and insurance, so we made it and I was working a lot of hours that summer. But it was endless nights of getting out the door, feet down, hollering, screaming and having threats, being followed around town by him; it was awful, and it ultimately came down to the fact that we were still married - I couldn't find him to get a divorce.
It got so bad one night [in July of 2008], that was the night that in the Post & Courier paper that I was so furious about, it just totally upset me. That night, Slade and I happened to be home. He was home that night, there was no ballgame, and I had just gotten off of work. It was about 2:30-3:00 o'clock in the morning when we both woke up to a beating on our door. Jeff [Slade's father] was at the back door screaming and hollering, and you could tell by the sound there was another man there. He was in our garage, he'd already made it through our garage, and we had another door from our garage into our house, we could see Jeff was at our back door and this guy was beating - almost had the door knocked in, and Jeff is hollering, "if you don't open this door, I'm not responsible for what happens next,." It just happened to be one of those deals. We were both terrified, Slade had picked up the shotgun - this was the only time Slade had actually had to deal with that, I was usually home by myself when a lot of this happened; most of the police reports are just with me around, but it just happened to be when Slade was home that night when it all happened. It was a bad deal, we never could get him stopped, but finally I was on the phone with 911 and we were hiding in the bathroom and finally the cops showed up and that was actually the night we were able to get a trespassing ban set on him, which shortly right after that was able to have protective orders put out, for me and the boys. He wasn't allowed after that anywhere near us at all, and it was a 24-month protective order. After that it kind of subsided a little bit, and we didn't have to put up with quite so much stuff, he kind of left us alone after that, but getting that was a long process because of Texas laws, which say if you're still married, it's still technically community property.
He broke into the house and stole pretty much everything of value that we had, obviously to pawn it to support whatever habit he was doing. It was a really bad situation for a good several months. It took a long time for us to finally be able to put a stop to it, once we got the protective orders in place, we didn't get restraining orders, they were protective orders so he could come nowhere near us, for Slade's school, his job, cause he was working at the time. [Slade] was working at a gym, working with children in the summertime. He loved that, he worked at one of the gyms in Texarkana [Arkansas] that summer, he worked with the younger kids; he's always loved children, helping them and playing with them. He was over at their little activities program there at the gym that summer. He set up sports games, and all kinds of stuff for the kids that summer, but things just got really rough, and I got out of the club because it was so many hours - I was working 100-130 hours a week - I finally had to be out of the club because it was starting to be really, really hard, so I had my one restaurant, and I kept it, it was out at the military base, Red Rock Army Depot.
Slade made All-American that summer and they laid off a whole bunch of people - it just got to be really hard, I sold the house that I was in, we had to move. So between the expense of moving and everything else, paying deposits and all that good stuff - but we had nice homes in nice neighborhoods. It was a strain - they laid people off and it got very hard to make ends meet. Slade made All-American and I wasn't able to go because I didn't have the money to make the trip, which was heart-breaking - I think a lot of that upset him, between that and the whole ordeal with Jeff and with me working all the time, it left a lot of opportunity for him to get into trouble, like teenage kids do, but apparently it had to do with a lot more than that. I was trying to enforce some rules - being a single mom with a teenage boy is not real easy, you have no one to back you up - he wanted to be out on his own and not want to have any rules, so he decided to start staying at friends. It was really hard. I was trying to find out night after night where he was at, what he was doing. I think one weekend he wanted to go to a party, I wouldn't let him go - or tried not to let him go. I think it was an authority thing. He didn't want to have any rules.
He had been gone all summer playing ball, and came home and things kind of went down - that was the beginning of his senior year, and it deteriorated after that - he was supposed to come with us on a family vacation; he and his friends were supposed to follow us one weekend, but they ended up getting pulled over. He was supposed to be shortly behind us - that's when he got pulled over for drinking. He was never ticketed or had anything put onto his record. I got a very tough call at two in the morning from a highway patrolman - a call that any mother does not want to get.
We had a hard time in the year after that; I didn't have the money to go to the ballgames half the time. What little money I did have went to his brother so he could go watch [Slade] play. It got really hard and they laid off another hand of people at the base, ended up losing my vehicle and didn't have any other choice but to move, but that was several months later, December/January time, and Slade was settled in with his grandparents by the time I had moved, and we had pretty much started talking again by then.
Did Slade help raise Zane?
There was a lot of times when I was not really raising them. I was self employed so I was working a lot of hours. I came home to make sure dinner was fixed, they hung out a lot when they were in high school, they had to stay at the house a lot by themselves, until I got off work, which was late. During the week I was home around 11 o'clock, the weekends was later because we were open later. He was home a lot with him, but he wasn't really raising him. Slade was never really responsible for that. Slade was so busy, you have to understand: he played, between football and baseball, most of the time he wasn't even off the practice field. When baseball season was going on, he didn't get done until 8-8:30 at night. Zane stayed with real good friends of ours. After school he would go to a friend's house and I would pick him up when I got off work. Or Slade would pick him - whichever one of us got done first. So I'd get them home, get them fed, and then I'd go back to work and close up. The club that I worked was only a mile and a half from our house. It was very close, so it was convenient for me to go home for a few minutes at a time if I needed to, to make sure everything was done, all that good stuff.
He practiced a lot, so there wasn't much room for having to be responsible in raising Zane. Up until that summer, between Slade's sophomore and junior year, when we split up, I didn't work that many hours, so I was always around.
Why did Slade choose baseball over football?
Slade has always loved baseball. Loves football too, but it was one of those deals - he started playing on a competitive team when he was eight years old - we lived in a little town called Pryor [Oklahoma], and in order for him to play on a competitive team, we had to go to Tulsa, which was about 45 minutes one way, not in traffic. So every night when school let out, he wanted to play for a competitive team; they offered him a position, and that's what he wanted to do. I always made it possible for them to do whatever it was that they were interested in. I always sponsored teams, uniforms and everything for them.
He started playing baseball when he was about four and a half years old. A friend of ours was coaching the team, technically they're not supposed to start until they're five, but they started him early, and the next year he moved up even earlier, the coach picked and he only spent a year there - he just always loved baseball. He didn't start playing football until he was probably in the third grade, so baseball was kind of like his first love. He started playing on a competitive team and I would drive him every night - he'd get out of school with his brother, we'd get in our car - a Suburban at the time - and we'd drive all the way to Tulsa, about 1:25-1:30 to get to the practice field, he'd stay for practice and we'd drive all the way back home about four days a week; Friday, Saturday and Sunday we'd travel out of town for tournaments. We played so much baseball, but it was what he loved to do, he just loved it. He played fall ball, and he just always loved it. I always said he had the swing of a major league player when he was young, and he always hated it when I bragged on him. The very first time he swung a bat, he had the prettiest natural swing. We always thought he would be a pitcher - we were hoping he would be, with the left hand, and the way he threw the ball, it was almost a given that he was going to be a pitcher.
But he got hurt. Me and the boys went to New Mexico on the holidays, instead of having Christmas at home, we went to New Mexico, El Canid and Steed, and spend two weeks up there. Slade got hurt going into his junior year - he got hurt snowboarding at Christmastime and when we got back he ended up having to have surgery. It was a quick scope and a quick fix, nothing they could do, and he ended up missing some of his junior year. He didn't play the whole year, maybe three quarters of the season. And obviously he got hurt in his senior year, that's the one everybody knows about. I happened to be at the game. It was a hard night; we took him to the hospital at halftime. It was hard to get him to come off the field - he knew what he had done and that he wasn't going to be back. He just always loved baseball, and that night he'd already signed [a letter of intent] with LSU. That was a heart-breaking night; we just sat in the ER at the hospital waiting on the x-rays. All I could do was tell him we'd find the best [doctor] we could find to get him fixed, it was one of those deals. When we got the results back it was kind of devastating. I promised him, no matter what, we'd find the best we could find to get him back on the field. I made a phone call, because the people weren't doing anything about it - we were back on talking terms, and in his senior year, I made a call out to - I had found a doctor in Birmingham [Alabama], and we flew him out there on November 9th and he had surgery on the 10th, my birthday. But he always loved baseball. He loved football too, but baseball was his heart and soul.
Can you elaborate on the injury?
He was a fullback. He was on defense and they were running the ball. A kid got him down right from behind and blew his knee out. It was a pretty bad injury... it was his ACL, and medial and lateral meniscus. They reconstructed it from the patella tendon and put it back together. [Dr. James Andrews] was a miracle worker. He was supposed to be released [back to playing] after 6-9 months but it only took 3 months for his release, and he went back to playing, but the coach didn't actually let him play until he DH'ed for a little while. He finally got to start in the playoffs. His first game back I was a nervous wreck. I sat in the stands and cried my eyes out whenever they brought him in to pitch. That was the last time he was ever on the mound, during the All-American game.
Did Zane have any interest in baseball?
Zane played tee-ball when he was five and six, and I coached him. Then he played soccer when he was about six years old, and that pretty much took up a lot of his time. He kind of gave up baseball and soccer because it was during racing season, so he wanted to race instead, and he started playing basketball - let's see, three or four years of basketball in the wintertime while race season was intervened. He never got back into sports after that, racing was pretty much his whole life.
Have you or Slade been treated unfairly by the media?
In ways, yes. There have been things said and done - I think there's been a lot of things said that were just not right. I don't think that people got the whole story, what actually happened, or took place before they reported on them. I can remember the day of the state championship ballgame, I actually showed up in tears because I got a call from a family member out of state that had seen online - I think the exact quote in the article was, "Slade's mother is out of his life due to a drug problem." That was the most heart-breaking day of my life. That was so hard, I showed up at the ballgame in tears, and everyone told me to ignore that stuff, but I thought, "How could people say things like that?" And even the Yankees told me to stop reading internet blogs because you never know what's going to be said; it's not going to get any better until he actually signs.
So we went through a tough time with that, and there were also mean things said about Slade. I remember some of the most awful things; it broke my heart because you don't want to hear anyone talking like that about your child. Some of the things that were being said were ignorant things, and it wasn't necessarily things that the writers said, just people that commented on stuff. Slade is a good kid, he went through a tough time and had some problems and started drinking a lot when he was in high school in that last year, a lot of that stuff I really can't comment on because he wasn't around the house a lot, for about 6-8 months. It was not that he didn't have a home to come to, cause he did, I did everything in my power short of calling the police to make him come home - that's the one thing I never did. I begged, I pleaded with coaches, other parents, and pretty much got no help from anybody, and people in that situation feel like they need to be a savior to that child. But I know that if a 17-year-old child were to show up at my doorstep a couple of nights repeatedly through the week, I would be giving a parent a phone call. And I never received one phone call from one parent letting me know that my son was ok, or that Slade's been staying here - I never heard anything, never got a call from any parent. Everyone wanted to take it upon themselves to take him in and I don't understand that.
There's a lot of things that were said, and in a way, I think we were treated unfairly. There were a lot of bad things said before and after the draft, and it had pretty much quieted down until the Post & Courier article. Slade's whole point in that was to reach out to young children or other people that might have been in the same position and let them know that there's other options out there, that family is important, and other kids that have parents who did drugs, or went through a problem with drinking. He wants to help other children that may be in the same situation. But when people take advantage of that, like in the Post & Courier article, which wasn't necessarily a bad story, but some things were left out that were detrimental to what he was trying to say. It was awful to hear people calling him a murderous drunk, but it could have been avoided.
On a personal note, I want to thank Mrs. Johnson and say the she seems like a devoted mother and genuinely good person.
Look for part two on Thursday.