Earlier this week I was lucky enough to spend some time with the number one prospect in Major League Baseball, Jason Heyward. He and I are both involved with L.E.A.D., an amazing organization in Atlanta that is bringing baseball to the inner-city in a new and innovative way. In the past, I've had the pleasure of volunteering with his mother, who is simply delightful. I knew before I ever spoke with Jason that he was an outstanding young man because of his hands-on involvement with L.E.A.D. and the wonderful upbringing he had with such terrific parents.
I wasn't disappointed in anything I observed about Jason Heyward up close and personal earlier this week. I was lucky enough to get to sit in on his session in the batting cage, and I was struck by his professional demeanor. While he carried on conversations with other players outside of the cage, he was completely focused inside the cage. It was impossible to watch and not notice how seriously he took this opportunity to hit in the cage and get instruction.
I observed several things about Heyward's routine in the cage. In a round of soft toss I noticed that he was lifting his back leg up and bending at the knee when he swung. Later, I asked hitting instructor, CJ Stewart, why Jason was picking up his back leg during soft toss. CJ explained that this was part of a drill Heyward learned years ago that teaches the importance of shifting your weight during your swing from the back to front leg. As a pitching instructor who makes my easily-embarrassed teenage girls stand on one leg for the "flamingo drill," this is going to make for a great example. Even Jason Heyward, the number one prospect in Minor League Baseball, goes back to drills to improve his game. Take notes, girls!
Another thing I noticed was that Heyward talked to himself in the later rounds. He'd call out a situation as he got in his stance, like "runner on second," and then he'd say something like, "That'll work!" after the contact if he thought he hit the ball like he wanted. I also noted that he took the time to get in his stance before each pitch and both his stance and his swing remained consistent through all of the rounds he took in the cage.
If you haven't already heard, Heyward has a beautiful swing. And if you haven't heard, you probably shouldn't call yourself a baseball fan because it's impossible to escape the talk of this rising talent. His stature and the full follow-through on his swings most reminds me of Fred McGriff, who I've heard him compared to more than once. It makes me excited to be a Braves fan.
For me, the only thing better than a top prospect who is reminiscent of Fred McGriff is one who is also a great role model for young fans. Heyward is all that and more. The first time I met him was in early November at a luncheon for L.E.A.D. I've been to events in the past when sports figures or celebrities slipped in just before they took the podium and slipped back out immediately after they spoke. It seems to happen more often than not, but it's not what happened when Jason Heyward came to the L.E.A.D. luncheon. I saw him pose for dozens of pictures with people and spend time talking to some of the young athletes who participate in L.E.A.D. His speech was all about giving back and getting involved, and after observing him I don't doubt that he will continue to be an integral part of L.E.A.D. throughout the years.
The second time I saw Jason was the day following the luncheon when he participated in the celebrity clinic L.E.A.D. put on for inner-city youth. Jason was there from start to finish, along with his parents and brother who were also extraordinarily kind and generous people.
Going into my third encounter with Jason this week, I wanted to respect him while he worked in the cage, but I was also dying to talk to him about some of the subjects in my book. I waited until he was done batting and then asked if he'd mind a couple of questions. It wasn't at all an interview but just a fun chat with someone else who loves the game of baseball. He was incredibly generous with his time and knowledgeable about the inner-workings of the business of baseball. It was truly a pleasure to talk to him.
With the natural talent that he has so well refined through his hard work, Jason Heyward is sure to be an impactful addition to the Braves lineup. More than that though, he's a terrific role model for all the young fans. You may not agree that sports figures should be role models, but the bottom line is that they are and so often they forget the little guys out there watching them with hopeful eyes. Jason Heyward is someone all Braves fans, young or old, will be proud to claim as our own.
So, a big thank you to Jason Heyward and CJ Stewart for letting me have a front row seat outside the cage, and a special thanks to Jason for letting me pick his brain on boring things like revenue sharing! Also, thanks to Dexter Fowler, Jay Austin, Scott Robinson and Telvin Nash for letting me watch their sessions in the cage as well! It was an afternoon any baseball fan would love to have!