Expectations await Steelers’ Heyward

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward made it clear he was excited to visit Peoples Natural Gas Field in specifically, Altoona.

“Don’t even mention it,” said Heyward when asked what brought the Ohio State product to Penn State country on Saturday. “I finally got to throw a pitch here in Altoona, and it was fun.”

Heyward, who will be 25 when he begins his fourth season with the Steelers this fall, became the latest in a long line of Steelers to take the mound and throw out a pitch for an Altoona Curve game.

His pitch, a lightly-thrown strike from the front of the mound, wasn’t the best effort from a Steelers player but certainly wasn’t the worst. That distinction still probably belongs to ex-Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, whose throw landed in the grass just beyond the mound.

“I didn’t ground out or mess anything up,” Heyward said. “I got some help, got to warm up a little bit and we had great weather out there. It wasn’t the best throw, but it got the job done.”

The Steelers will be expecting Heyward to get the job done this season with increased responsibilities now that Brett Keisel is a free agent.

“I’ll have a lot more responsibility, and I’m looking forward to a little bit more on my plate,” Heyward said. “I’ve had the chance to start, and I’m looking forward to what I can do to help this team.”

The 6-foot-5, 288-pound lineman had a career-high five sacks and 59 tackles last season and has been durable his first three seasons in the NFL. He’s played in all 48 games since he was drafted.

“I don’t have individual goals,” Heyward said. “My main goals are getting this team to the playoffs and then not just being happy making the playoffs. I think if you reach team goals, the individual goals take care of themselves.”

Standing in the Steelers’ way will be last year’s AFC finalists, the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, but Heyward believes Pittsburgh will control its own destiny.

“Let them think that [the Broncos and Patriots] are the top teams in the AFC,” Heyward said. “The only guys I’m concerned with are the guys in our locker room. If we do what we’re supposed to do, I don’t see why we have to be worried about those other teams.”

The line to meet Heyward wasn’t quite as long as some of his predecessors, and dwindled to just a few people over the final hour, but the fans who made the trip were enthusiastic.

“It’s awesome, and I’ve tried to make it out here every single year they have done this,” Altoona resident Larry Weyandt said. “I go to training camp regularly every year. I got Mike Pouncey here last year. I’ve met Brett Keisel, Franco Harris and Aaron Smith. It’s always awesome to come out here and meet these guys.”

Heyward was originally scheduled to throw out the first pitch on April 4 during the second game of the season, but his appearance, along with the game, was postponed due to rain.

“Cam was kind enough to reschedule not too far after the original date,” Curve general manager Rob Egan said. “It means a lot to have the Steelers come here, because it means something to the community and you see people come out here for it.

“It’s nice for fans to see them in their own hometown and not have to travel two hours. We love doing it, and the fans continue to tell us they love it too by coming out.”

Before the first pitch, fans got to watch Heyward attempt to teach Curve announcer Mike Passanisi the finer points of being a defensive lineman and talk about how he enjoys playing video games.

Heyward’s late father Craig, a running back for the New Orleans Saints, was almost as legendary as Raiders running back Bo Jackson on the Nintendo game Tecmo Super Bowl due to how hard he was to bring down.

“I haven’t had a chance to play Tecmo Bowl, but I do play the video games now,” Heyward said. “There were a couples games [Craig Heyward] was on, and I got to play as him as a kid. I wish they’d bring back those old games so I could play.”