CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Oregon State's top pitcher, who had been identified as a registered sex offender by The Oregonian, 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 defeated Vanderbilt 8-4 on Friday in the opening game of their NCAA super regional. Heimlich's attorney, Stephen Ensor, released the statement just hours before first pitch.
"I understand that many people now see me differently, but I hope that I can eventually be judged for the person I am today," Heimlich said in his statement. "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 was in uniform and was cheered by fans when he was introduced along with the rest of Oregon State's players before the game.
After Friday's game, Oregon State coach Pat Casey said the decision to play would be Heimlich's.
"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."
According to The Oregonian, Heimlich, a 21-year-old junior, had to register as a sex offender in Benton County after arriving at the university in 2014, the result of a guilty plea in 2012, when he admitted to sexually molesting a 6-year-old female family member in Puyallup, Washington, when he was 15.
The Oregonian, while doing a routine background check on Heimlich for a feature story, discovered he was cited for failing to update his sex offender registration status in April.
According to The Oregonian, Oregon State athletic director Scott Barnes would not say when the school knew Heimlich was a registered sex offender, and a university spokesman told the newspaper that it receives lists of offenders from Oregon State Police "on a regular ongoing basis" and then checks those names against its student database.
The spokesman told the paper that information is then shared only on an "educational need to know" basis.
A left-hander, Heimlich has helped anchor the pitching staff for the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, compiling an 11-1 record with a 0.76 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 118⅓ innings this season.
Heimlich was projected to be an early-round pick in the Major League Baseball draft next week. He is ranked as the No. 43 overall prospect by Baseball America.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.