I was at Wrigley Field for last Sunday afternoon’s marathon, 13-inning Cubs victory over the San Francisco Giants. My partner Bob and I were seated in Section 242 near the right foul pole. He’s long been a fan of this vantage point and I’m now a believer. It doesn’t hurt that there’s very little competition for the attention of hot dog and beer vendors.
The seats provided us with a solid view of right field action – and struggling outfielder Jason Heyward. It seemed like the 27 year-old, 2007 first-round draft pick was in for another long day at the top of the second inning. Hunter Pence hit a pop-fly and Heyward bobbled it like a rookie. Could anything go right this season for the three-time Gold Glove winner (2012, 2014 and 2015) and 2014 MLB Defensive Player of the Year? The Cubs signed Heyward to a big money, long-term deal last December. So far the investment has yielded a .232 batting average for the year. It’s not what anyone had in mind.
But as members of Wrigleyville Nation are aware, Sunday’s game improved immensely for Heyward and those (like me) who doubted the pre-season investment in him. Writer Myles Phelps of Chicago Now summed it up nicely in his blog post, Jason Heyward? Jason Heyward! The player scored all three RBIs that led to yet another hoist of the “W.” Phelps wrote:
“Almost everyone has had an opinion on Jason Heyward. Maybe he’s overthinking it. Maybe he needs to retool his swing more. Maybe he’s just not that good (ha). But today, Heyward looked like himself again…He played exceptional.”
Of course one good weekend does not a successful season make. But I think most of us would agree that it’s far better for players to get hot during a playoff chase than at any other stretch. Perhaps the rest last month did the trick.
In mid-August, Manger Joe Maddon put Heyward on weekend dugout duty in an effort to provide, per CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa, “a long breather to clear his head.” It’s more than fortunate that the Cubs deep bench creates these opportunities. Axisa observed, “Nothing is clinched until it’s clinched, but Chicago has a huge lead, so they are in position to take their time and get things right.”
Since returning to the lineup, Heyward has five multi-hit games in eight starts, including the one-man devastation handed to the Giants. As concerned Cub fans have come to realize, baseball Zen-master Maddon knows more than any of us. He said of Heyward’s high-performance turnaround, “I really believe when a very good major league player may be struggling, if he just sits and watches a major league game being played and then understands, `I’m one of the best’,” it does something internally.”
With the Cubs inches away from a single-digit magic number, Heyward’s resurgence is great news for Wrigleyville Nation. It’s also a huge potential migraine for other playoff contenders. Fansided’s Robert Davis editorialized, “As Cubs fans begin remodeling for their ‘Clinch Parties,’ it may be best for managers around the league to redo their approach to Chicago’s lineup.”
Welcome back Jason. We missed you.