Essence of a leader: Jason Heyward’s profound impact inside the Cubs clubhouse
When the lockout was lifted and the Cubs started trickling back into the facilities in Mesa, Ariz., Jason Heyward knew there’d be plenty of new faces in the clubhouse.
So, he wanted to make sure they felt welcomed the moment they stepped foot in their new surroundings.
“I know there’s gonna be so many new people, just let me come say what’s up to them in person. Just have a moment like that,” Heyward said.
He wanted to make sure that interaction was shared face-to-face and not via a cell phone or direct message.
“I know what it’s like to have a bunch of things going on with family, trying to get settled and whatnot,” Heyward said. “Once we get here, we’ll have some fun.”
That’s the type of leadership Heyward brings to the Cubs’ clubhouse. It’s the environment that manager David Ross and the team are hoping to foster. And it starts with actions like Heyward’s.
“I say at meetings – if you don’t know how to act, if you don’t know how to dress, ask a veteran, the guys that have been here,” Ross said. “Jason Heyward is that guy for me. He’s the guy that I rely on to help run the clubhouse and he can relate to the youngest of players and I think he can relate to the staff.”
That relationship truly stretches to everyone in the clubhouse.
Ildemaro Vargas joined the Cubs at the deadline in the 2020 season and saw the leadership that was in that clubhouse with the core of the 2016 championship team. He returned in 2022 and has seen a unified locker room that stems from Heyward’s influence.
“He’s been in charge of making sure the team is united,” Vargas said. “That’s a leader.”
So how does he do that?
Well, it starts with simply being a good person.
“He asks how you feel, how it’s going,” Vargas said. “He goes to the cage, he says hi. He’s a caballo [horse] that’s always open to say hi to you, to talk to you. He’s a caballo that a newcomer or a rookie isn’t afraid to ask him something.”
And Heyward does so in a manner that makes the player seem comfortable.
Heyward, who enjoys listening to Spanish music artists like Bad Bunny, converses with some of the Latin players – like Vargas – in Spanish.
“It’s special because that’s something that fills you with confidence, having a teammate that, a caballo like him that can listen to you in whatever language, whether it’s English, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, whatever it is, he tries,” Vargas said.
Vargas is only slightly kidding about the language barrier. Heyward has spent plenty of time this spring with newcomer Seiya Suzuki. But even their relationship is a testament to just how understanding Heyward is of his fellow teammate.
When he first signed, Heyward wasn’t in a total rush to get into deep conversations with Suzuki. Suzuki, after all, had a whirlwind first day as a Cub.
The Japanese outfielder was shown around the facility, then had a half-hour press conference with English-speaking media, a press conference with Japanese media and then he finally went into his new clubhouse where he started meeting more of his teammates as they trickled in for the day.
So Heyward introduced himself but kept their conversation short.
“He said he flew to the United States a couple of weeks ago; flew into LA first then had to fly to San Diego, did his tour of teams, had to go to Chicago for physicals, all that kind of stuff and then flew back here,” Heyward said. “So, I was like, nah, let me let him get here settle in.”
That type of impact has helped Suzuki settle in to life in Major League Baseball.
“He’s like my brother,” Suzuki said through translator Toy Matsushita. “I don’t know the English language that well but he makes it really easy for me in terms of communication. I really appreciate it.”
That’s who Jason Heyward is. That’s the essence of the type of leader that the Cubs have. That’s the kind of values he’s instilling in a new core that Jed Hoyer and the Cubs hope becomes “the next great Cub team.”
“He’s just a good human being that likes to carry himself with a lot of dignity and pride and know he’s representing his family name and the Cubs’ name and does a really nice job of that,” Ross said.