Birthday boy Heyward growing from all his experiences

Like most everything else in his life, Jason Heyward’s 23rd birthday celebration started a little early.

Heyward was serenaded by his teammates with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” in the visiting clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park Wednesday night, an hour and a half before midnight when he officially turned 23. He got a cake too.

The Braves were off on Thursday, his actual birthday, before opening a three-game series Friday in New York. So why not stretch out the celebration as long as possible? Heyward is coming of age.

The Henry County High graduate has been in the major leagues for three years. He’s already seen quite a bit. From his moon shot into the Braves bullpen on his first major league swing and getting voted into the All-Star game as a 20-year-old rookie, to stretches on the bench last season in favor of Jose Constanza during an injury-plagued sophomore season.

Heyward has always seemed like an old soul. Now he’s starting to play like it.

“He’s maturing as a person and how he approaches the game,” Braves hitting coach Greg Walker said.

Walker and Heyward first met face-to-face last winter, and the stakes were high. Between a shoulder injury and another year exposed to major league pitching, Heyward’s batting average had plummeted 50 points to .227. Still, the Braves had stood relatively pat and were counting on Heyward to right himself and boost their offense from within.

Walker was a big part of that plan. One of his main qualifications for taking over as hitting coach was coming up with a strategy for what to do about the scuffling right fielder. His first step in that process was lunch.

“I bought that day,” Walker said. “I told him, ‘At the end of the year, we’re going to come back and we’re going to have a lunch and next time you’re going to buy.’”

They ate steaks at Chops in Buckhead, no small investment. When they go back, they’ll be reminded just how far they’ve come.

“It feels like we’re onto something,” Heyward said.

Heyward’s average is back up to .269 this year. He has matched the home run total of his breakout rookie season already, with 18, which is tied with Brian McCann for the team lead.

Heyward is second behind Michael Bourn with 67 runs scored. He’s stolen a career-high 15 bases. He’s tied with Hunter Pence for the lead in assists among National League right fielders with nine. And he’s played the best defense of his young career, prompting Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez to say Wednesday: “I can’t see a better right fielder in the league than him.”

Most importantly, Heyward has spent the past six weeks hitting in the No. 3 hole, the most demanding spot in the lineup. He’s impressed the Braves outgoing No. 3-hole hitter Chipper Jones with what he’s done with the inside pitch this year, “recognizing what is a strike and what is not inside,” Jones said.

He’s impressed his new hitting coach with his ability to weather the ups and downs.

“He’s had a perfect attitude,” said Walker, who preaches it’s OK to get mad but not to get frustrated. “Learning to deal with failure at this level is a must. You don’t have to like it, but you can’t let it beat you, and he’s done a great job for a 22-year-old kid. He really has.”

Coming up through the minor leagues, Heyward didn’t know much about failure. So last season, struggling with a shoulder injury and not producing came as a shock. It only got worse as he kept getting beat on the inside pitch, then stopped hitting the outside one too.

But Heyward is using that experience now, and he’ll continue to going forward.

“(I’ve got to) keep being patient with myself,” Heyward said. “Just keep trying to minimize the lows and make sure there’s more good than bad.”

There’s been plenty good lately. Heyward left his mark all over the Braves’ past three series wins against the Marlins, Astros and Phillies. He put his speed to use by scoring five runs from first base in a stretch of five games, including four times on doubles and once even on a McCann single.

He made the catch of the day Monday against the Phillies to save extra bases with two runners on for Ben Sheets. He also started the seventh-inning rally to rescue Tim Hudson Wednesday night with a double off the center field wall against tough left-hander Antonio Bastardo.

Heyward hit a 368-foot shot in the ninth inning Monday for his fourth home run in 12 games. When asked what the recent power was a result of, Bourn interjected from the next locker over: “Being a beast.”

Heyward laughed. Then he answered the question in his own way.

“It’s a product of time,” he said. “Getting at-bats and going forward. Just becoming a little bit smarter, a little bit more seasoned.”

44 comments Add your comment

Braves Fan

August 9th, 2012
6:22 pm

Good for you Jey Hey Kid! He has a great future in this league if he keeps his head on straight. I think he has a monster year next year without Chipper. He will be forced to step it up.

Fredi Gonzalez

August 9th, 2012
6:22 pm

You gotta tip your cap to the pitchers for throwing such hittable pitches to Jason…

Braves Fan

August 9th, 2012
6:25 pm

I noticed he is starting to go the other way alot more lately. That is one thing I love about Freddie Freeman. If he can master that it will help out his batting average alot more.

Brave New World

August 9th, 2012
6:30 pm

Happy Birthday to The J-Hey Kid! The best is yet to come for this 5-tool player.

Matt

August 9th, 2012
6:47 pm

Great story Carroll. Thanks!

braves

August 9th, 2012
7:11 pm

if you look the team you can see the braves have a handful of fast players who can score easily from first with down line double or a gap-double dont matter if is left-center gap

J-Hey is the big example, Bourn. Prado, Pastornicky, Uggla, Janish and Johnson,,and of course Simmons and Wilson too…

LET´S GO BRAVES!!!!!

Coach

August 9th, 2012
8:44 pm

I don’t see any of the people on here that we’re saying to trade him during the offseason, where are you? There were obvious reasons why he had an off year, and since those issues have been corrected. Larry Parrish could have ruined or damaged heyward’s confidence if not his mechanics. In addition to that, I think he learned a valuable lesson in both trying to do too much and playing hurt. The hiring of both walker and fletch has left a ripple effect on the regulars on this team (besides Uggla). The issue with Uggla is that he cannot swallow some of that selfish pride and ask for help.

I am happy that we didn’t trade Heyward. He is growing before our eyes and seems to have a very level head for a 23 year old. I just hope that the Braves will have the funds to keep Freeman,Heyward,Kimbrel, and all the other young studs that we have.

Mark (another one)

August 9th, 2012
9:02 pm

I doubt if Uggla is in isolation. He’s with the coaches, and they have discussed his extra work trying to correct some things. He was just struggling. I hope that the recent production is an indicator of his turning things around.

Heyward and Freeman have been together in the Braves system since single A, and they have produced at each level. They both are near the top as defenders at their positions, and both can hit for average and power. These are two examples, and there are certainly others, of the Braves developing players in their minor league system. It doesn’t get as big a splash as a big trade or free agent signing, but the minor leagues are the way to develop a team, especially on a budget.

longtimefan

August 9th, 2012
9:25 pm

In general the people who were calling for Heyward to be traded, released or sent to AAA are the same jokers who were saying Chipper was a liability(where are they now?), who were on Freeman last year when he was slumping and who think FW has done a poor job as GM. Some of these bloggers are just looking for attention(that Joe Tess idiot), are new to baseball or ignorant about the sport or have an ax to grind about a particular player(Rafael and his Diaz rants). The Braves have a terrific core of very good young players, with a good mixture of position players and pitchers. Most of these players have been drafted or acquired by FW during his tenure. Unlike the Phillies and Yankees with massive payrolls, the Braves team is young and has little money tied up in long term contracts. The future is bright.

Dtrainwreck

August 9th, 2012
9:28 pm

Bourn leads the team in runs scored.

bruce

August 9th, 2012
9:46 pm

Happy Birthday Jason, congrats on your patience and hard work paying of.

Ken Stallings

August 9th, 2012
10:34 pm

There’s really no question about it. The prime reason for the Braves’ offensive ressurgence is Jason Heyward playing like the rookie who was a legitimate threat for rookie of the year.

But, when you factor in the avoidance of the sophomore slump with Freeman and even the ressurgence for Chipper Jones, perhaps Walker deserves an overall credit. It is clear the offense is vastly better top-to-bottom with Greg Walker as hitting instructor. He’s done a great job, and even the horrible slump of Dan Uggla appears to finally be going away — hopefully to never appear against this season!

iTiSi

August 9th, 2012
10:56 pm

Dem Gnats know how to take care of bizness, don’t dem Gnats!. About to beat the Astros again 5-0.
They don’t mess around with these bad teams like the Braves do. Washington is Philadelphia this year, and well… the Braves are the same old Braves once again.

nc fan

August 10th, 2012
12:18 am

Carroll

bOURN LEADS THE BRAVES WITH 75 RUNS SCORED NOT HEYWARD.

ChipperisGod

August 10th, 2012
12:20 am

Good for Jason. He’s had a great season defensively and a much improved season offensively. Here’s hoping that he builds off this and goes 300/30/100 next year. He has that ability and next year will be the official year Jason becomes a superstar.

The American Dream

August 10th, 2012
12:30 am

Happy Birthday Heyward!!! I hope you get home to Henry County soon. I had some good times down in old Henry County back during my wrestling days. I recall one time in 1997 I wrestled Buff Bagwell at an amory down there. I put Buff in a headlock and knocked him out. Little did I know that he sucker punched me by stealing my lovely assistant, The Cooter. I sure do miss her a lot. Buff if you are still out there I would love to meet you for a rematch sometime. How about the Lithonia Walmart next Monday? I pickup my government check on Friday and will cash it Saturday. You and me and bring The Cooter with you. I sure hope Heyward has not been messing around with the Cooter.

Braves fans are idiots. Last winter, everyone wanted to trade Heyward. Now you all love him. The Braves are choke artists just like their leader my Chipper Jones. I can’t see why he is a Hall of Fame player. He should be in the Braves HOF next to bob Horner but not in Cooperstown next to the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

another aNiMaL

August 10th, 2012
8:15 am

Happy Birth Day, big guy. Now go club them Mets tonight and keep up the awesome work!

Fish Bisch

August 10th, 2012
8:25 am

The cake is a lie.

Joey

August 10th, 2012
9:45 am

Heck of a year already – perfect for the 3-hole.

Speaking of the 3-hole, Chipper had a funny incident in his NYC hotel room.

And we thought he did his TV watching at a Hooters . . .

http://network.yardbarker.com/mlb/article_external/chipper_jones_took_to_twitter_to_complain_about_the_tv_in_his_hotel_room_and_an_employee_went_up_and_fixed_it/11417560?linksrc=home_x_rg_head_11417560

Carl Farvman

August 10th, 2012
10:08 am

Yeah, Chipper is showing his intellectual depth…….tweets about air conditioning and a bad hotel. For those trumpeting the ‘Chipper for manager’ schtik…..do we need more shallow leaderhip minds in the dugout?

[...] Birthday boy Heyward growing from all his experiences [...]

PiersonBrave

August 10th, 2012
12:28 pm

iTiSi: Good point except the Astros took the Gnats to extra innings 2x’s in the recent series. 1 of the wins took a highlight reel catch to win the game in center. A win is a win but not like they were steamrolling the Astros.

Braves have to keep winning like they are and sweep when they can, and we will see where they stand when they are in game 3 in Pitt.

Boy howdy is that series shaping up to be important! But I am getting ahead of myself, 1 game at a time guys. Keep the train rolling.

PiersonBrave

August 10th, 2012
12:30 pm

Hey Carl, as long as you stay out of the dugout there will be at least one less “shallow mind” to worry about.

Fastball

August 10th, 2012
1:00 pm

Chipper for manager, that would be me. Add Glavine and Smoltz to the coaching staff. Get rid of Bourn, NOW. They could have picked up Scott Podsednick, a .283 lifetime hitter, steals bases, as aposed to standing at first and waiting for Prado or McCann to ground into a double play. They wanna play poor ($), well there’s guys out there. Cody Ross turned down a two year contract in Atlanta to play in Boston. Trade Uggla, for a left fielder. or a third baseman. I’ve lived my whole life following the Braves, lots of losses, lots of good times. At this stage in my life I’m just glad they are on TV for me to watch and help pass the time. For those of you a little over weight, please lose it now and avoid diabeties and nuerthorpy, make sure you prepare for old age. Yesterday I watched Aaron, Spahn and Matthews at old County stadium, then Murphy at Fulton-County. Now Chipper. Take care guys.

Mark's for the Braves

August 10th, 2012
1:18 pm

So happy for Jason. He had such a tough year in 2011 that I wondered if it was his shoulder or his confidence (or both). He has really turned it around in 2012 and I am so glad. The Braves offence wouldn’t be the same without him in 2012, that’s for sure!

Go Braves!

P Rose

August 10th, 2012
1:29 pm

Heyward, Prado, Simmons, Freeman, Medlen, Minor, Beachy and Kimbrel — that’s your nucleus of the team for years to come. J-Hey is the key. I said at the beginning of the season that if Jason had a good year, the Braves would contend. He is and they are. Nice work, kid!

Carl Farvman

August 10th, 2012
1:44 pm

“Hey Carl, as long as you stay out of the dugout there will be at least one less “shallow mind” to worry about.”

Probably a true statement……fair enough.

Thaddeus

August 10th, 2012
2:34 pm

shallow leadership minds? LOL

Quack Quack

August 10th, 2012
2:37 pm

Happy Birthday JHey….You are a Beast, and are making a lot of Sports Center plays. Keep up the great playing. In 18 years, you can make your tour like Chipper with just as good numbers. Best of everything to you.

Lets pound the Mets……

GO BRAVES!!!!

woman in the throes

August 10th, 2012
2:54 pm

Sure he’s doing great and everything but calling off Thursday’s game to celebrate his birthday may be a bit much don’t ya think.

Teddy B

August 10th, 2012
3:22 pm

Calling off the game Thursday? Woman in the throes- Do you watch the same Braves I watch? Surely you would’ve seen there WAS no game Thursday..

Anyway, Heyward is a MoNsTeR!! How cool would it be if he had a 30/30 season this year? 20/20 seems more likely, but man that would be nice. Its so cool watching J-Hey grow and mature past 2011 and I hope he doesn’t stop until he reaches the top. We need to sign him while he’s affordable. I’m afraid in a year or 2 it’ll be too late. I want to see him in Atlanta for a long, long time.

GaryinBham

August 10th, 2012
3:41 pm

Happy Birthday, Jason. Stay positive, keep it up. The vast majority of us think you’ll be great and never had a doubt you’d be here.

John Edwards

August 10th, 2012
4:09 pm

J-Hey has only one weak spot in his game. Sometimes when a ball is over his head, he takes the wrong track to get it or jumps at it too soon or too late. Other than that, he’s a strong defensive presence in right field. He would have more assists, but most runners and coaches are afraid to run on his canon of an arm. His hitting is getting better and better as his knowledge of the strike zone improves. He will be a .300 hitter one day, and soon. I love how he goes with where the ball is pitched instead of trying to pull everything. He has realized he is strong enough to punish the ball to ALL fields. LOVE YA, Jase!

Coach (2012 Fredi's Beisbol Fandango)

August 10th, 2012
4:14 pm

Jason Heyward…………

The birthday man child and second coming of Darryl Strawberry. This fan was never in doubt that J-hey will be a force in ML baseball for many more years to come!

Oprah

August 10th, 2012
4:20 pm

He didn’t really turn 23 that day until the very moment he was squeezed out of his mama’s va jay jay.

Jay Dubu

August 10th, 2012
4:34 pm

For whatever reason, the Braves cost him a year of growth last season by keeping a hitting coach that help absolutely no one, for the entire season.

Bad management.

Hopefully next season, he’ll elevate his game even higher, by cutting down on the strikeouts, hitting for a higher average, hitting lefties better, and producing more with runners on base.

His defense and base running are already superb!

Good to see the young man turn things around from last season.

Go Braves!!!

The Rock

August 10th, 2012
4:40 pm

The Rock says, “Now come out tonight and celebrate against the Mets with a 3+ rbi game. Oh, and hit us one of those homerun thingies while yo’re at it.”

Carroll Rogers

August 10th, 2012
4:43 pm

Thanks nc fan, that was a dumb mistake on my part!

defensive indifference

August 10th, 2012
5:46 pm

You don’t trade a talent like Jason Heyward; you build a franchise around him and reap the reward of pennants in future years.

Teddy B

August 10th, 2012
9:25 pm

I think what we are seeing here is the birth of a legend. In 5 years time I think Heyward is going to be the Beast of the East, nobody will even remember who that Harper kid is in DC, and J-Hey will be a Ryan Howard/Pujols kinda guy that collects walks like Bonds. He can be that good and its scary. Scary for the other teams pitchers. Never been so high on a prospect since Pujols and when I saw Heyward I thought there it is again, a monster just waiting for his time to shine..

Teddy B

August 10th, 2012
9:32 pm

^ Howard-like player minus the injuries I hope. Heck I think he’ll put Ryan Howard to shame honestly. He’ll be way better if he keeps developing like this. Jay Dubu said it right, he lost a year of development because of bad coaching but now we get to see what he can do. Luckily enough they caught it before it ruined him for good and he bounced back with a vengeance.

twoplyguy

August 11th, 2012
8:32 am

I think the number seven spot in the order is the toughest place to be.
At three, Heyward gets to see a lot of fast balls because he has power
like Freeman and McCann coming in behind him. Ay number seven, you
get a lot of junk as pitchers know they typically have a light-hitting number
eight and the pitcher.

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October 4th, 2013
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