Jason Heyward reflects on his lasting legacy with Cubs fans, Chicago
Saturday will be a day like no other for Jason Heyward.
That’s when the Cubs plan to commemorate his time with the team and he’ll have a chance to say a proper goodbye to the faithful fans at Wrigley Field.
“It’s gonna be heavy,” Heyward said Thursday morning. “It’s going to be emotional, I think, and twofold — I’m looking forward to being able to do that and to acknowledge them from the heart.”
And he means that.
In some regards, Heyward’s time with the Cubs on the field hasn’t gone as either side would have liked when he signed his 8-year, $184 million contract ahead of the 2016 season. Over the last 7 years on the North Side of Chicago, Heyward has slashed .245/.323/.377 with 62 home runs and 8.9 wins above replacement, per Baseball-Reference.
“To be able to show the value of myself, as a person — and probably, one of the toughest times I’ve had on the field and off the field in 2016 — but to still show, I’m here for the team, to still play defense, the way I play defense, run the bases and just to step in and step up in a time, and then multiple times when I was needed to be who I am, to be Jason Heyward,” Heyward said. “We still got a ring. It took every bit of that from me — it took that group. There’s no other group that was going to get that done.
“So that’s fine. I understand that people can say ‘bad contract this and that.’ But I know, I also have my hand and a lot of winning baseball here on the North Side of Chicago.”
Fans have been appreciative of that and it made Chicago special for him and his family. Heyward made Chicago his permanent residency, spending his offseasons here and then giving back to the community in a multitude of ways.
“It brings a smile to my face, knowing that I had a chance to play in front of these fans,” Heyward said.
He noticed the special fanbase the first time he came to Wrigley Field on August 20, 2010, when he was a rookie with Atlanta. It was a Friday, 1:20 p.m. first pitch and the Cubs were 22 games under .500, but there were still 39,345 fans in attendance making their presence felt.
Heyward felt the ambience of Wrigley Field in arguably the most successful period in franchise history, too.
“For timing to work out for where I was here on a run where we made some history in the postseason, going to the NLCS, three years in a row, winning some divisions, obviously winning the World Series, it was really gratifying,” Heyward said. “Good time, bad time, they’re still right there waiting for something positive to happen. And we earned the right for them to be right there even more on the edge of their seats a little bit further, right when we kept coming back from situations that were just unimaginable.”
That’s what made giving back to the city so easy for him.
Last year, he announced he was partnering up with Intentional Sports, a nonprofit organization, to build the Jason Heyward Baseball Academy in the North Austin neighborhood that will serve as a multipurpose facility for people in the neighborhood. For his contributions, Heyward has been named as the Cubs’ Roberto Clemente Award nominee for 3 straight seasons.
“I always feel like that’s really special,” Heyward said. “I think that’s something I’ve always done to the best of my ability — give back, to be where people need you to lend a hand and be helpful when I can. Just reading what’s going on at the moment. That’s a part of me as a baseball player, but that’s a part of me as a human being.
“And it’s just nice to be one of the many people that were helping a lot of different causes here in my time and you talk about legacy, it’s nice to be able to implement multiple things that will be here, when I’m not around anymore.”
And his love for this city has grown to new levels. The beauty of Chicago in the summers and the calming splendor it presents even in winter has been special to him.
“You can have a five-star dinner at a beautiful restaurant, or you can take a sandwich from home and sit [on the riverwalk] and be amongst the same people and enjoying those vibes,” Heyward said. “I feel like Chicago just doesn’t take that for granted.
“It’s still that old-school, homey vibe … To me, that’s been something that has been awesome to be a part of just taking walks, going down the city, as a professional, as someone who’s a ball player in the city, people embrace that. They respect that and they respect your space, they want you to enjoy what they’re enjoying. I think that’s been something that’s really cool and unique about the city.”
That’s why Chicago, for better or worse, will always be home to Heyward, his wife and new son.
“Yeah, the plan is to always have a home here,” Heyward said. “My family’s here as far as in-laws go. My wife’s from here, my son was born here.
“Every time I leave Chicago and come back, I feel like, ‘damn, I missed it that much more when I get back home.’ So, I’ll continue to find excuses and reasons to be here, whenever that is.”
For Heyward, that will make Saturday that much more special. That’s what will make it emotional. That’s what will stay with him regardless of all the ups and downs for his time here.
“To me, it was just a beautiful experience to play somewhere where baseball happens and there’s nothing else that goes on besides that,” Heyward said. “I really feel [there’s] no better place to play this sport.”