Live from Opening Day: Heyward homers his first time up!

April 5, 2010: Jason Heyward at the cage. (Photo by M. Bradley)

April 5, 2010: Jason Heyward at the cage. "He's the real deal," Chipper said. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Bobby Cox couldn’t think of a suitable antecedent. Neither could Terry Pendleton. Neither could Chipper Jones, who was himself a rookie of immense promise.

“The media spotlight is 10, 20 times bigger than it was even 10 years ago,” Jones said, and that’s true.

When Jason Heyward picked up a bat and walked to the cage Monday, he took in his wake a camera crew and two still photographers. And when he, on his sixth practice swing — actually his fourth full swing, the first two having been bunts — he hoisted a delivery from China Cadahia over the fence in right-center, a writer who has been covering the Braves since 1984 (i.e., me) felt compelled to note it.

“Everyone who gets here has talent,” said Pendleton, the Braves’ hitting coach, speaking as he watched Heyward take his pregame swings. “What’s impressive about him is the way he carries himself, the way he goes about his business.”

Said Chipper: “He’s the real deal.”

Having been here these past 26 years, I can say with some measure of authority that there has never been a Braves rookie whose Opening Day debut has stirred such anticipation. Chipper was a September call-up in 1993. Andruw Jones arrived in August 1996. John Smoltz, Steve Avery and Tommy Hanson were midseason promotions.

Bottom line: There aren’t many rookies who ever make their first big-league start on Opening Day, and there have been few in the history of the sport whose advent has been a bigger deal than Heyward’s. Think not? Just click on this link and you’ll find a story by Ben McGrath in the The New Yorker, which isn’t to be confused with Baseball Digest, on Jason Heyward.

“We had Rafael Furcal start on Opening Day,” Cox said, “and he was 19.” Or thereabouts, someone noted.

“Sometimes 19, sometimes 22,” Cox said, laughing.

And Rafael Furcal, however old he was, wound up being the 2000 Rookie of the Year. If the projections for Heyward are accurate, he’ll win the 2010 ROY award and then the MVP before 2015. You wonder if the wattage of this spotlight will prove too great for any 20-year-old, but everyone who has been around Jason Heyward makes the same point: He’s not just another 20-year-old. He’s different. He’s special.

And we’ll be here all afternoon and into the evening to see how he fares. Join me for this august occasion. (Though technically it’s April. I made a little joke.) I’ll be obliged if you did.

Update: On cue, Jason Heyward hit a home run his first time up. Off Carlos Zambrano. Three-run shot way back into the bullpen in right-center. Crushed it. Whoa.

475 comments Add your comment

Bryan G.

April 5th, 2010
2:35 pm

Dammit…gotta wait until the 2nd inning to see him hit!

Bryan G.

April 5th, 2010
2:36 pm

Kudos to me!

Matthew

April 5th, 2010
2:36 pm

Ready to see the Braves and especially Heyward. Hope he can respond to all of this hype. Mark…who would you compare him to after seeing him live and in person? thanks.

todd grantham

April 5th, 2010
2:38 pm

Mark, your photography is improving.

Mark Bradley

April 5th, 2010
2:38 pm

Kudos to you, Bryan G.

Mark Bradley

April 5th, 2010
2:40 pm

And Matthew, there’s some Fred McGriff to Heyward — every ball off the ball seems smoked.

Mark Bradley

April 5th, 2010
2:40 pm

I’ve taken a class, Coach Grantham.

Bryan G.

April 5th, 2010
2:40 pm

Mark, are you saying he endorses Tom Emansky’s defensive drills video?

wonder if

April 5th, 2010
2:41 pm

I wonder if Heyward gets a standing O before his first AB and a curtin call after his first hit…like some other and forgoten Braves Right Fielder….

Mark Bradley

April 5th, 2010
2:43 pm

It’s amazing: The Crime Dog was a really good player for more than a decade, and we remember him for the Tom Emanski commercial.

Dr. Warren

April 5th, 2010
2:45 pm

My “little” niece, a sophomore at UGA, was born at the end of ‘89, and now this kid, her same age, is starting for the Braves. We’re all getting older…

obomaisaclown

April 5th, 2010
2:45 pm

Why did they set it up to have Hudson pitch on opening day. Todays starting pitcher would have been my last choice.

F-105 Thunderchief

April 5th, 2010
2:47 pm

The crushing cold of just three weeks ago is gone. Opening day is here and the Braves look promising, providing a lot of chips fall into place. Ahh, life is good.

Pi$$onaDAWG

April 5th, 2010
2:47 pm

Isn’t that B. Butlers #22? I hope he can be that good and soon.

AndyC

April 5th, 2010
2:49 pm

I’m gonna say that Heyward strikesout in his first AB. Not hating on him or the Braves, just saying that he will be very nervous and might swing at some pitches out of the zone. Hopefully the second AB will be a homerun.

Mark Bradley

April 5th, 2010
2:53 pm

Lowe is starting today, not Hudson.

jimmy

April 5th, 2010
2:53 pm

don’t judge heywood until we see how he handles thing’s when they get a little rough frenchy had it all,look how his mind was tinkered with

Mark Bradley

April 5th, 2010
2:55 pm

I shook hands with Heyward before the game. (Carroll Rogers introduced us. She’s a nice person.) He didn’t seem nervous. But I have a special way of putting everyone at ease.

Just kidding. I make everybody nervous.

Barnacle Bill Bavasi

April 5th, 2010
2:56 pm

Will the Cubs crush the Braves in the same manner the White Sox did? I sure hope not.

chc4

April 5th, 2010
3:02 pm

I don’t get why Lowe is starting the opener. It’s not a big deal at all but still… I’d say he’s our #4 starter. Granted he’s making #1 money but JJ oughtta be getting the ball.

John Kruk is my Daddy

April 5th, 2010
3:02 pm

Do they have exciting organ music at the Ted on opening day?

Mark Bradley

April 5th, 2010
3:05 pm

No exciting organ music yet, Mr. Kruk.

Larry

April 5th, 2010
3:06 pm

no offense Bradley, but why are you doing the game and not DOB?

eric the elder

April 5th, 2010
3:06 pm

I’m trying to remember when I was 20 – - 55 years ago!

I can’t get over a sickening feeling from the hype, the spotlight, the adulation. I hope to god the kid isn’t a target of ridicule and loathing 5 years from now if he were to get involved in a kerfuffle in some night club, a sex scandal, drinking, even prohibited meds – - immature reactions to an inability to handle this constructed fantasy.

I know – - he is mature, good family, can manage everything. We’ll see. If the wheels were to come off, it is a certainty that we fans and the media will never take any of the blame.

Fernando Appleyard

April 5th, 2010
3:09 pm

The field is muy bonita..and Jason Heyward…you….you..look marvelous!

Smithers

April 5th, 2010
3:10 pm

Wasn’t Franceour deemed the Braves savior at one time too?

Mark Bradley

April 5th, 2010
3:11 pm

When I was 20, I was pretty much a moron. Meaning nothing has changed in 34 years.

Tech Sucks

April 5th, 2010
3:12 pm

I wish Huddy were starting today. I’m worried about Lowe…. Too bad we couldn’t have traded him instead of Vasquez….

BEAT THE CUBS AND ALL OF THEIR LAMEASS BANDWAGON FANS THAT LIVE IN ATLANTA.

AndyC

April 5th, 2010
3:13 pm

Larry

DOB is at the game too. Go checkout his blog. I am following both Mark and DOB today.

mmgtfan

April 5th, 2010
3:14 pm

Have the cubs fans outnumbered us yet Mark?

Larry

April 5th, 2010
3:14 pm

ok thanks andy

Mark Bradley

April 5th, 2010
3:15 pm

I’m sure there will be the usual covey of Cub fans. I’ve seen some shirts. But not all that many.

todd grantham

April 5th, 2010
3:16 pm

Mark, has Bobby applied a nickname to Heyward yet?

nope

April 5th, 2010
3:17 pm

Does anyone else think that Mark Bradley’s photo looks as if he just ordered you a drink at the bar that is mixed with Rohypnol, and he is just waiting for you to fall motionless on the floor?

B. Cox

April 5th, 2010
3:18 pm

I’m calling him Hey-ie.

Fred McGriff

April 5th, 2010
3:19 pm

I give Jason Heyward my full endorsement.

GT71

April 5th, 2010
3:24 pm

Gotta real good feeling…and 22 has always been my lucky #.
Hope they all relax and play ball!

Fernando Appleyard

April 5th, 2010
3:26 pm

….And I must say..Fred and Bryan on the pregame show…they look marvelous!

Fernando Appleyard

April 5th, 2010
3:27 pm

Over/Under on Bobby getting tossed?

Trey

April 5th, 2010
3:27 pm

What’s the crowd looking like?

Barry

April 5th, 2010
3:28 pm

Hey Y’all:

This is the first game of a long season. Patience will be key in hanginf with this team and watching them develop into more than a contender.

GO BRAVES!!!!!!!

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This is a SECRET from a BRAVES FAN. TELL EVERYBODY!!!!!!!!!!!

…………………………………..”JUST BELIEVE!!!!”………………….

Mr. Turnip-Green Jeans

April 5th, 2010
3:29 pm

Don’t sweat it Bradley. I’ve been a moron all my life, and look forward to many years of blissful moronity to come.

When one breaks free of the moron closet and lays it out there, it’s the most liberating thing imaginable. It’s also a dandy excuse for damn near any embarrassing indiscretion.

Howell

April 5th, 2010
3:34 pm

This team will be just like the one that played the white sox over the weekend. Pure hype and total crap.

80 win season. Enjoy the hype and face reality

Cubs 6
Braves 1

Mark Bradley

April 5th, 2010
3:36 pm

I haven’t heard a Cox nickname for Heyward yet. Though I did hear Chino Cadahia called him “Jace.”

Concerned in DC

April 5th, 2010
3:36 pm

My concern is, if Heyward is in the starting lineup, and he hits a ball to the far end of Guam, might Guam tip over?

Bat Masterson

April 5th, 2010
3:37 pm

Have fun a the game today Bradley. Did Sonny Clusters ever say what hitting hushpuppies with a bat is called?

Walker, Texas Ranger

April 5th, 2010
3:37 pm

I’m Walker, Texas Ranger and I approve this report and Heyward

Walker, Texas Ranger

April 5th, 2010
3:39 pm

Mark there is something to be said for blissfull ignorance

Walker, Texas Ranger

April 5th, 2010
3:40 pm

Nickname, I betting on Woody

Mark Bradley

April 5th, 2010
3:41 pm

If he did, Bat, I’m unaware of it.

By the way, I’ve read three Jo Nesbo books. They’re terrific.