Born: August 9, 1989
Jason Adenolith Heyward was born August 9, 1989, in Ridgewood, New Jersey to Eugene and Laura Heyward. The family moved to the Atlanta suburb of McDonough when Jason was a toddler. A second son, Jacob, followed in 1995. As soon as Jason showed an aptitude for baseball, his parents got him on a travel team, the McDonough Dodgers. Eugene, an engineer, quit his full-time job and got into consulting so he could oversee his son’s development as a ballplayer, and as a student. Both he and his wife tutored Jason so he kept up with his studies.
Jason was 8 when he joined the Dodgers. That year the team played 60 games and won the AABC World Series, defeating a team from Puerto Rico in the finals. Jason was named MVP. He then joined Georgia Nitro, and played with that team for five years. As a Nitro player, Jason grew to more than 6' and started attracting the attention of pro scouts. Many compared him to a young Dave Parker. Jason moved his training to the East Cobb Baseball Complex in Marietta when he was 14, continuing his fast-track development by playing 150 or more games a year. Jason also played for Henry County High during this time.
The Atlanta Braves selected Jason with the 14th pick in the 2007 draft. By 2010, played his way onto the Braves as the team’s 20-year-old starting right fielder. On Opening Day, Jason clubbed a 433-foot homer in the first inning. Great catches, throws and game-winning hits followed, as Jason enjoyed a fabulous rookie season. He batted .277 with 18 home runs and finished runner-up to Buster Posey for Rookie of the Year honors.
In 2011, Jason hit a home run in his first at bat of the season a second year in a row. However, he experienced a sophomore slump and saw his average drop to .227 and his homers dip to 14. Jason recovered in 2012 to have an excellent year in the field and at the plate. He batted .269 with 27 homers and 82 RBIs. He also stole 21 bases. Jason ranked among the top right fielders in the game. He used his rifle arm to gun down a league-leading 11 runners, and won a Gold Glove at the age of 22.
The 2013 season was a test of Jason’s mettle, as he lost time early in the year to an appendectomy and later in the season after being hit in the face by a Jon Niese pitch. He returned with a football facemask-style guard to project his jaw and finished the year with a .254 average in 104 games. In 2014,Jason was named Defensive Player of the Year, winning his second Gold Glove. However, he batted .271 with 11 homers, 58 RBIs and 20 stolen bases—well short of what Braves fans were expecting. Atlanta finished under .500 for the first time since he joined the club.
The Braves decided to shift into rebuilding mode, and Jason was a key piece of that strategy.—as a trading chip Atlanta dealt him to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. Oscar Taveras had been slated to be the Cards’ right fielder, but he perished in a car crash. Manager Mike Matheney agreed to relinquish #22 so Jason could continue wearing it in St. Louis.
Jason had a superb season in 2015. He established new career highs with 160 hits, 33 doubles, 23 stolen bases and a .293 average. His grand slam on the last day of September powered the Cards their 100th win and clinched the NL Central. The Cubs surprised the Cards in the NLDS, taking three straight after dropping the opener. Jason had a decent series, batting .357 with a homer and an OPS over 1.000.
With a glut of talented young outfielders, the Cardinals decided to let Jason leave via free agency. The Chicago Cubs signed him to an 8-year $184 million contract. Jason manned right field for the Cubs and won his third Gold Glove in a row, but he never quite got untracked at the dish. He hit a meager .230 with 7 homers and a career-low .325 slugging percentage. Chicago’s juggernaut offense was able to absorb Jason’s poor offensive season because of his glove and veteran leadership.
That leadership proved invaluable during the World Series that fall when in Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians. The Cubs had recovered from a 3 games to 1 deficit and were leading the deciding contest heading into the 8th inning with closer Aroldis Chapman on the mound. Rajai Davis hit a dramatic homer to tie the game and the Chicago players were reeling. A 17-minute rain delay following a scoreless 9th inning gave the club a chance to regroup before heading into extra frames. Jason reminded his teammates that they were part of the best team in the game. “Stick together and we're going to win this game,” he promised.
The Cubs ground out the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th and tacked on a second run to win the game 8–6. GM Theo Epstein later said that, when he heard Jason had called the meeting, he knew the Cubs would win the game.