Heyward comes from a great family. He is respectful, works hard, and receives instruction with meekness. Both parents went to Dartmouth.
He is just a terrific young man—articulate and well mannered. He is the real deal on the field and off the field.
"I was brought up by parents who taught me to treat everyone with respect, to treat them the way I want to be treated. It's a simple way to go about life, but my parents taught me that from an early age," Jason said.
Jason was born in Bridgewood, New Jersey. The family moved to the Atlanta suburb of McDonough in November 1991, just weeks after the Braves' "worst to first" season ended against the Twins in the World Series.
By the age of 10, Jason was telling his parents he wanted to play professional baseball.
"A lot of kids say that," said his mother, Laura, a quality control analyst. "By the time they're 12, they want to do something different. It never changed with him."
- It is all about Jason's parents, Eugene and Laura. It was in Hanover, N.H., that Laura, a French major who spent her junior year in Paris, met Eugene, an engineering major who was on the Dartmouth basketball team. Eugene's coach, Gary Walters, was on the 1964-1965 Princeton team with Bill Bradley that finished third in the country. One of Eugene's best friends in college was Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's vice president of baseball operations.
Laura was raised in Queens, N.Y. Eugene was born into a military family in Beaufort, S.C., and when his parents divorced, they sent him to Los Angeles to live with his uncle and attend a private school. That uncle was Kenny Washington, who was the sixth man on the 1963-1964 and 1964-1965 UCLA national championship basketball teams, John Wooden's first two championship teams.
"I was able to spend a lot of free time at Pauley Pavilion, working out, playing with Kareem and Marquis Johnson and guys like that," the elder Heyward said. "It was fantastic. Dartmouth recruited me, and I was really excited, and was able to go back East so I could visit my father."
- In 1988, when he was just 8 years old, Heyward helped lead his McDonough, Georgia Dodgers to an AABC Roberto Clemente World Series Championship.
- Jason spent the summers of 2005 and 2006 playing on the highly regarded East Cobb travel team. Teammates included future first round draft choices Josh Smoker (Nats, 2007) and Cody Johnson (Braves, 2006).
- Every year until his son signed with Atlanta in 2007, Eugene would ask, "Do you still love playing?"
Jason always said yes, and Eugene would remind his son to ask himself every day: "Am I who I want to be?"
In 2007, Heyward's senior year at Henry County High School in McDonough, Georgia, he committed to a scholarship to UCLA. But he ended up being drafted by his hometown Braves.
"Getting drafted and having the chance to play for my hometown team is a dream come true,” said the five-tool outfielder from McDonough, Georgia, which is less than 30 minutes south of Turner Field. “When I heard them call my name, I was in awe. It was unbelievable.”
In 2006, Jason led his team to a Georgia Class 4-A baseball championship. In his four years at Henry County High, Heyward never missed a single game. In 2007, he hit .520 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs as a senior.
- In 2007, Jason got drafted by the Braves (see Transactions below).
In 2008, Baseball America rated Heyward as second best prospect in the Braves' organization, behind only OF Jordan Schafer. The book had Jason at #2 in the Braves' farm system again in the winter before 2009 spring training, behind RHP Tommy Hanson.
And in the winter before 2010 spring training, Baseball America Heyward as #1 prospect in the Braves' organization.
- In 2008, Heyward finished third in the South Atlantic League in batting average (.323), fourth in on-base percentage (.388) and fifth in runs scored (88). And he accomplished most of this before turning 19 in August.
- Jason has really good baseball instincts. And he has tremendous athleticism.
Heyward comes from an athletic family. His father played basketball at Dartmouth. And his uncle took the hardwoods at UCLA under head coach John Wooden.
Both his Mom, Laura, and his Dad, Eugene, graduated from Dartmouth.
Jason is a real professional, both on and off the field. He sets goals and doesn't let anything stop him from achieving them. He has a real good head on his shoulders.
He is quiet, going about his business the same way every day. Nothing upsets him. He likes to work at the game and is very professional in the way he goes about it. Even in batting practice, Heyward isn't out there trying to impress anybody. He's working on using his hands and driving the ball to the opposite field.
In 2009, Heyward was named by Baseball America the Minor League Player of the Year. And also the #1 prospect in both the Carolina League and the Southern League.
Heyward became the first Braves prospect to earn this honor since Andruw Jones in 1995 and 1996.
- During Spring Training in 2010, Heyward hit two notable batting practice home runs. One hit and damaged a Coca-Cola truck in the parking lot, and another broke the sunroof of Atlanta Braves' assistant GM Bruce Manno's car in the same lot.
- In 2010, as Heyward began his first Major League season, he selected uniform No. 22 to honor the memory of his former high school teammate, Andrew Wilmot. Jason and Andrew played on the 2005 Georgia high school state baseball championship winning team. The following year Wilmot, while attending college in Tennessee, was killed in a car accident.
Jason has massive hands. If you shake hands with him, your hand disappears.
He has broad shoulders, thick arms, and a thin waist.
- In 2010, Jason became the second-youngest Major Leaguer to ever be elected to start an All-Star Game.
Heyward's offseason workout program leading up to 2012 spring training gave him a lot of confidence. Jason's workouts started two weeks after the season ended. They started with 8:00 a.m. wake-up calls five days a week, as opposed to just Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as in the past.
He did physical therapy to build strength in his shoulder twice a week, workouts with weights at the gym three times a week and for the first time he started a regular routine of running and cardio-work.
He made an effort to slim down, dropping from 256 pounds entering 2011 spring camp to 235 at the start of 2012 spring training. He was eating fewer steaks and junk food and adding fruits and healthy snacks to meals of salads, fish, chicken, or pasta.
"If he keeps going about his business the way he's going about it, it makes for special careers and special people," Braves hitting coach Greg Walker said. "You get guys who are talented and have a special will to win. He has it. Even for that type of player, the game is not easy. It's not easy for anybody. He competes, has a will to win, and wants to be great."
"I was taught you need to earn everything you have," Heyward said. "When something gets hard and you get a little adversity, you overcome it. If in a game you felt you got cheated or something, my dad would say, 'Well, be better next time and beat them.' You try and do everything you possibly can to do well. After that, you can't control it."
Instead of moping or being soured by the fact that Braves general manager Frank Wren said Heyward was not guaranteed a starting job the following season, he entered that offseason before 2013 Spring Training determined to make the necessary changes. Heyward committed himself to a rigid conditioning program that made him leaner and allowed himself to be open to the adjustments Walker suggested when he began his current role between the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
"He has a will to be great," Walker said. "He doesn't want to be a good player. You run across players that want to be good and want to win. But he has a will to be as good as he can be."
While Heyward might not openly show his intensity by throwing helmets or breaking bats over his knees, he does so while consistently running out ground balls and aggressively breaking up double-play attempts.
"He goes out and competes as hard as anybody I've ever been around," Walker said. "The one thing that separates him from most people who aren't in the clubhouse or the dugout is how hard he competes. He is a gifted player that wants to be a winning player. His game is evolving, but he competes every day and he has a will to win."
Somewhere in the process, Heyward also has the desire to separate himself from the elite of the elite.
"I want to be great," Heyward said. "I don't want to settle for mediocrity. I know that comes with time and patience." (Mark Bowman - mlb.com - 8/19/2013)
Along with being blessed with tremendous athleticism, Jason has endeared himself to fans with the all-out effort he brings to the stadium on a daily basis. His insatiable desire to compete has put the Braves right fielder in a position to receive a respectable and deserving honor.
Heyward has been selected by the Major League Players Alumni Association as the Braves' representative for this year's Heart and Hustle Award. This award honors active players who demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit and tradition of the game. The Heart and Hustle Award is also the only award in Major League Baseball that is voted on by former players. (7/22/2014)
Heyward didn't make the request, but Cardinals manager Mike Matheny didn't feel he needed to wait for one. What better way to welcome Heyward into the organization, Matheny thought, than to initiate a potential jersey swap himself.
Matheny and Heyward both have deep-rooted connections to the No. 22. It's the only number Heyward had ever worn as a Major Leaguer and, aside from brief stints with numbers 15 and 44, the one Matheny had donned as both a player and manager. The number also plays prominently in the non-profit organization Matheny started in 2003, the Catch Twenty-Two Foundation, which has helped build handicapped-accessible baseball fields in three St. Louis-area cities.
In some form, both Heyward and Matheny also have the figure represented as parts of their Twitter handles.
But it's the reason Heyward wears that number that has driven Matheny to begin the process of working with Major League Baseball's merchandising folks to see if the manager can give it up. There are some complexities with that process because of merchandise already printed and in distribution.
Heyward's connection to No. 22 goes back to his days on the Henry County High School baseball team in Georgia, where he played alongside catcher Andrew Wilmot, who wore No. 22. While attending college, Wilmot was killed in a car accident in 2007. As a gesture to his late friend's family, Heyward asked the Braves for No. 22 when he was added to the roster before the 2010 season.
He has worn that number to honor and remember Wilmot ever since. Wilmot's mother, Tammie Ruston, who was also Heyward's high school literature teacher senior year, was in the right-field stands to see Heyward debut with that number. (Jenifer Langosch)
Heyward’s supporters portray him as incredibly unselfish with a multitude of intangibles and no diminishing skills. Zach John Savage, who has coached three teams to the College World Series (including a 2013 title) in his last six seasons at UCLA, quickly noticed Heyward’s professional demeanor in separate visits to Heyward’s hometown in McDonough, Ga., and during lunch in Malibu, California, during a recruiting visit in 2006.
“He was way beyond his years, physically and mentally,” Savage recalled. “People treated him with respect and looked up to him. He made people around him better.” (Mark Gonzales/2015)
2016 Spring Training: Joe Maddon remembers when players would sit around the clubhouse with a bucket of long necks to talk about the game. These days, they're at the juice bar. And this spring, the Cubs players are finding out just how knowledgeable new outfielder Jason Heyward is.
"He's really smart," Anthony Rizzo said. "A lot of things we talk about, not a lot of guys in this clubhouse or in the game talk about. He's very advanced with everything. He sees everything, he watches everything, he pays attention to everything, which in my opinion is not easy to do."
The Cubs' collective baseball IQ should get a boost from Heyward.
"He's five steps ahead of the game," said Rizzo. "We were talking, and I'm like, 'Wow, you think like that, too?' He anticipates moves off the bench, why would you throw this guy that pitch in this situation. It's little things that an outsider would never think about."
Maddon noticed it when watching Heyward from afar.
"He can beat you in a five-tool way on a nightly basis, whether it's running, whether it's throwing, whether it's defense, whether it's hitting, or hitting with power, and the sixth tool, just the way he thinks," Maddon said. "He's the complete baseball player." (Carrie Muskat - MLB.com. - February 22, 2016)
What does it take to win a world championship? A lot of work. Years of dedication. And for Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler, it meant hours and hours with hitting trainer CJ Stewart. Heyward and Fowler just helped the Chicago Cubs break the curse and win their first World Series since 1908. Stewart sat down with 11Alive's Blayne Alexander to find out what it took to get the two players where they are today.
"I started training Jason when he was 14, but I was first aware of him at 10 years old," Stewart said. "I remember watching some of my other kids play, and there was this tall kid—he was taller than everybody—he was left handed and had this level of passion."
Trainer CJ Stewart with Diamond Directors is known for turning baseball dreamers into Major League players. Dexter came to him first, at age 14. A few years later, Stewart started training Jason. From the beginning, he says, the two were laser focused.
"I remember (Jason) telling me, 'Coach CJ, I've discovered from my house to this training facility, the halfway point is Turner Field. I want to hit a home run at Turner Field by the age of 21,'" Stewart recalled, adding that Heyward was only 14 years old at the time.
Turns out, he got the chance even earlier: Heyward was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 2007. Three years later, at age 20, during the first game of his major league career, Heyward hit a home run his first time at bat. Week after week, Stewart worked with Heyward and Fowler on their hitting technique. But he said during the nail-biter game 7 of the World Series, he couldn't even stand to watch.
"I went to bed," Stewart said. "I couldn't handle it! I knew when I woke up, one team would be the winner."
For Stewart, it turned out to be the right team, and a deeply satisfying win. As a child growing up in northwest Atlanta, Stewart was a die-hard Cubs fan. And during his own MLB career, he spent two years as a Chicago Cub. But it wasn't the history making win or even the years spent polishing the young players that endeared Stewart to Heyward and Fowler. It's the stories we don't hear—like Heyward's Christmas gift for Stewart's L.E.A.D. Ambassadors, a group of at-risk young men Stewart mentors through baseball.
"We literally shut down Foot Locker and he bought a pair of shoes for every ambassador, we're talking close to 25 young men," Stewart remembered. "Jason was 18 years old. He had just been drafted by the Braves."
Years later, when Heyward and Fowler celebrated their World Series win, Stewart received texts from some of those young men. "They said 'We did it, coach. We won,'" Stewart said. A reminder of the lasting impact the players had left on the young boys. And part of what makes their big win even sweeter.
"I know it's gonna provide a platform for both Jason and Dexter to empower others the way they've been empowered," he said. (Blayne Alexander - WXIA - November 2016)
- June 2007: The Braves drafted Jason in the first round, out of Henry County High School in McDonough, Georgia. In August, he signed with scout Al Goetz for a bonus of $1.7 million.
- January 18, 2013: Heyward and the Braves avoided arbitration and agreed to a one-year deal worth $3.6 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility, a big increase from the $565,000 he made in 2012.
February 4, 2014: Jason and the Braves again avoided salary arbitration, agreeing to a two-year, $13.3 million contract. The deal calls for a $1 million signing bonus, and salaries of $4.5 million in 2014 and $7.8 million in 2015.
His 2015 salary would escalate based on a points system for 2014 accomplishments. He gets extra money for 502 plate appearances, an All-Star Game selection, a Gold Glove award, a Silver Slugger award, and finishing in the top 20 in MVP voting. (Editor's note: In 2014, Jason got more than 502 plate appearances and won the Gold Glove.)
November 17, 2014: The Cardinals sent RHP Shelby Miller and RHP Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves, acquiring Heyward and RHP Jordan Walden.
- November 2, 2015: Heyward became a free agent.
December 12, 2015: Heyward and the Cubs agreed on an eight-year, $184 million contract.