Cubs’ Jason Heyward and wife Vedrana break ground on 10-acre youth sports facility in Chicago
Jason Heyward and his wife, Vedrana, joined with By The Hand Club For Kids, Grace and Peace Revive Center, Intentional Sports, the Chicago Fire Foundation and state and local leaders to break ground on a 10-Acre piece of land that will turn into a facility for sports, education and wellness in the North Austin neighborhood in Chicago.
Intentional Sports is a nonprofit that will provide health and wellness in the new facility. By The Hand Club For Kids is an after-school program that helps kids from under-resourced neighborhoods and helps guide them in Kindergarten through College. The after-school program also provides children with meals, dental and eye exams.
Heyward was able to contact By The Club For Kids through former Chicago Bear, Sam Acho, with the Austin Harvest, which is a youth-led open-air fresh-market that helps deliver fresh food to the Austin neighborhood. From there, a partnership was beginning to form.
“When she [Donnita Travis] and Andy McDermott with Intentional Sports shared their vision for this facility, they said, ‘Hey, Jason, we can’t see anyone better to have the opportunity to work with for the baseball academy.’ For me, immediately, on that Zoom call, it gave me chills,” Heyward said to Marquee Sports Network’s Elise Menaker.
He will serve as the director for the Jason Heyward Baseball Academy to help mold youth into athletes and leaders within their community. Heyward noticed that there was a dearth of recreational centers in communities with high rates of poverty and he saw this as a chance to help spread positivity and teamwork amongst youth.
“It’s somewhere to go have a recreational center to get away and gain positivity, teamwork, learn some sacrifice away from home,” Heyward said. “Nothing better than to do it this way and having a baseball academy named after myself, but to be able to put my stamp on it and work with some great people.”
The $31 million building will help close the opportunity gap for youth on the west side of Chicago. The academy will introduce baseball to youth on Chicago’s west side for participants ranging from 18 months in age to college athletes.
Heyward wants to help youth open their eyes to different opportunities, not just through sports, and have the building operate as a safe haven.
“It’s really special for the kids to see that you gotta start somewhere,” Heyward says. “It’s great to open their eyes to other jobs, other positions.”
Heyward’s yearning to give back stems from his childhood upbringing, particularly from his parents.
“Coming from my parents, Eugene and Laura, always wanting to make sure we earned what we had in life, but also help others when you can, treat people the way you want to be treated. Know the manners will take you where money won’t,” Heyward said.
In addition to the Jason Heyward Baseball Academy, Vedrana Heyward will launch Girls on the Diamond, a program to help young women discover a passion and develop the skills to grow into powerful women.
Since signing with Chicago in December of 2015, Heyward has grown as a staple within the community. The Georgia native announced during the event that he had received his Illinois license in the mail. A driving factor for Heyward to be a part of this center is the connection that he’s grown to have in the city of Chicago.
“Organically, this is home for my family,” Heyward said. “My wife and I want to start a family here, have kids here, and let them grow up in a place and see that everything’s not perfect, but by no means does that mean it has to stay the same.”