Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – When manager Bobby Cox said that the Braves will probably install nets to protect cars from Jason Heyward’s prodigious batting-practice home runs, reporters thought he was kidding.
He was not kidding.
“I’m serious,” Cox said Thursday at Champion Stadium. “Smashing too many cars.”
Heyward has created a buzz that’s transcended Braves camp and spread throughout baseball, with tales of the 20-year-old outfield prospect’s hitting exploits becoming the stuff of blog- and Twitter-fueled legend.
As Braves assistant general manager Bruce Manno could attest, this is not myth. This stuff is happening — Manno has an $3,400 estimate for repairs as proof.
That’s how much it’ll cost to fix a shattered sunroof on the car, which was parked in a small team-officials lot beyond right field Tuesday. Heyward has pulled numerous balls to — and even over – the parking lot this week.
That particular ball crashed through the roof, an estimated 440 feet from home plate. Another he hit that day dented a Coca-Cola truck as it rolled past right-center field.
Heyward hit one even longer on Wednesday, over a high wall at the back of the small parking lot, a drive that sailed perhaps 450 feet – with wind blowing in.
On Thursday, he hit two screaming line drives, one that ricocheted high off a video board above right-center field, another off the parking lot wall.
Cox said Manno’s was the only window damage this week, but other cars had been dented.
“We should fine him, make him hit the ball the other way,” Cox said, smiling as he ate a bowl of soup Thursday following the Braves’ blustery morning workout.
It was unseasonably cool, but Heyward’s bat kept sizzling against the pedestrian fastballs coaches threw in the later rounds of batting practice. Like other hitters, Heyward hasn’t done much against actual pitchers throwing batting practice in the early days of camp, a time when pitchers are traditionally ahead of hitters.
But the titanic long balls he’s hit off coaches’ pitches are flying out of the park faster — and farther — than those hit by anyone else. And everyone has noticed.
Pitcher Tim Hudson said it sounded like a gunshot as he walked past the outfield as Heyward hit. Pitcher Derek Lowe said Heyward’s batting practice was frightening. Cox compared the sound of the ball off Heyward’s bat to what Cox heard when Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle hit. “That same sound,” he said. “That ring.”
Heyward could win the opening-day right field job with a good spring, and Cox said he’s not worried that all the attention or pressure could have an adverse affect. In fact, Cox said he had no concerns about Heyward, on or off the field.
“His outfield play is good. His running is good. His throwing is good,” Cox said. “He’s got great makeup. The hype, the media business, is not going to bother him one way or the other, whether he makes the team or doesn’t make the team.
“He’s got that kind of makeup. It’s really good.”