Oregon State lefty convicted of molesting niece claims innocence

Oregon State lefthander Luke Heimlich, one of the best players in college baseball who pleaded guilty as a teenager to molesting his 6-year-old niece, says he's an innocent man and ready to play in the majors as the victim's mother maintains that he sexually abused her daughter.

"Nothing ever happened," Heimlich told The New York Times in a story published Monday ahead of next month’s draft, his first on-the-record interview about the case that he called a "delicate family situation."

The 22-year-old, who pleaded guilty to the felony in 2012 when he was 15, added that he's "always" denied that anything ever occurred. According to court records, the victim said Heimlich pulled down her underwear and “touched her on both the inside and outside" while in his bedroom.

"Even after I pled guilty, which was a decision me and my parents thought was the best option to move forward as a family. And after that, even when I was going through counseling and treatment, I maintained my innocence the whole time," he told the newspaper.

See Heimlich pitching for Oregon State: 

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TUCSON, AZ - APRIL 07: Oregon State Beavers pitcher Luke Heimlich (15) pitches during a college baseball game between Oregon State Beavers and the Arizona Wildcats on April 07, 2018, at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
TUCSON, AZ - APRIL 07: Oregon State Beavers pitcher Luke Heimlich (15) pitches during a college baseball game between Oregon State Beavers and the Arizona Wildcats on April 07, 2018, at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
TUCSON, AZ - APRIL 07: Oregon State Beavers pitcher Luke Heimlich (15) pitches during a college baseball game between Oregon State Beavers and the Arizona Wildcats on April 07, 2018, at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
TUCSON, AZ - APRIL 07: Oregon State Beavers pitcher Luke Heimlich (15) pitches during a college baseball game between Oregon State Beavers and the Arizona Wildcats on April 07, 2018, at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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The senior returned to the Beavers this season after stepping away from the team when The Oregonian broke the initial story in June. He is 11-1 with a 3.01 ERA.

Oregon State has received plenty of criticism for allowing Heimlich to return and play.

“[People] can have their opinions of me," said Heimlich, who added that he's spoken to several general managers and owners. "Ultimately the people around me know who I am. That is what matters. Everybody else can say what they want.”

The victim's mother told The Times that Heimlich shouldn't be playing baseball and "there's no way he didn't do it," adding that her daughter gave "very specific" information about the incidents, which occurred between 2009 and 2011.

Heimlich originally faced two charges, but one was dropped as part of a plea deal that involved two years' probation, court-ordered classes, writing a letter to the victim (the daughter of one of Heimlich's older brothers), and registering as a Level 1 sex offender for five years.

In a statement last year Heimlich had said he was "grateful" for the counseling he received: "I realized that the only way forward was to work each day on becoming the best person, community member and student I can possibly be. I understand that many people now see me differently, but I hope that I can eventually be judged for the person I am today."

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