ST. LOUIS - If the crowd at Busch Stadium boos Jason Heyward in his first at-bat since signing with Chicago, it’s likely the former Cardinal outfielder will be smiling.
“People are going to do what they want. If somebody boos me here that means they were not happy to see me leave,” Heyward said to a large and familiar contingent of St. Louis media members Monday. “I’m kind of glad people weren’t happy to see me leave. That’s just a good thing.”
No one in St. Louis was thrilled to see Heyward leave for the team that sent them home early from the 2015 playoffs, especially with a blindingly bright future and favorite of the division. Adding a player of Heyward’s caliber could be the difference between first and second place.
Aiding his decision was the fact that Heyward wanted to don the blue pinstripes since breaking into the majors in 2010.
“Honestly I didn't see myself leaving [the Cardinals],” said Heyward. “I was happy with where I was. I gave myself time away from the playoffs and the type of season we had. I gave myself a chance to think. Chicago is a place I've always wanted to play. It's a good atmosphere and it's good timing. I'm happy with the chance to come play here and I didn't want to leave this division. I don't think that was emphasized enough.”
No one wants to leave the National League’s best division. He was courted by the Nationals but choose the Cubs because he thinks it’s the best chance for him to win a World Series.
“When I think about baseball the way I learned playing it growing up is old fashioned. You want to play the game the right way. I love playing in Chicago and this division. I think this team is ready to win now or attempt to win. Other places I had offers from had winning teams and winning offers. Just so happens Chicago is a place I've always loved,” Heyward said.
And when asked about those aging core comments he made when explaining why he signed with the Cubbies, Heyward contends those were taken out of context.
“It wasn't about age for me,” the 26-year-old defended himself. “It was just the fact that some guys' contracts would be coming up. Guys will not be here for the 10 years I'll be here. I just thought Chicago was going to give me a great opportunity to be with these guys for the majority of my contract.”
Heyward says he still keeps in contact with some of his Cardinal teammates and in the offseason they all encouraged him to take the deal that was best for his family.
“I mean these are my boys. My teammates I don't take for granted. I appreciate them and we'll compete on the field and have fun off the field.
“I want people to know that these guys on the Cardinals side - my teammates - supported me saying ‘I've got to do what's best for me.’ They didn't lie and say they wanted to see me go anywhere. They said at the end of the day I have to be happy for myself and that my family's happy. And support like that just goes the longest way.”
Overall Heyward is grateful for his time in St. Louis saying the team exceeded expectations considering all of the injuries they suffered. And even though he only wore the birds on the bat for one season he enjoyed the opportunity to experience the Gateway City as a player.
“It really is a treat to get to spend some time here and get to see it as a player. It was a lot of fun. It's a beautiful baseball place.”