Alex Wood (@Awood45) March 14, 2014
Class act Ladies and Gentlemen. pic.twitter.com/0nZqNtStFh— Chris Johnson (@C_Johnson28) March 14, 2014
Yes, Heyward has given all of his teammates from last year a brand new PlayStation 4. The note on each of them says,
Congratulations on winning the 2013 NL East title. Thanks for all your hard work and dedication.
Alex Wood and Chris Johnson sum it up pretty well above. "What a guy!", "Class act." Heyward has shown this classiness and professionalism throughout his career, whether it be in the minors or in Atlanta. To me, this particular act of kindness demonstrates one of my favorite qualities Jason has - leadership.
And it comes at the perfect time, as the last 2 offseasons have seen a number of the team's leaders depart. Chipper Jones retired and David Ross joined the Red Sox after the 2012 season. Then, Brian McCann and Tim Hudson both left via free agency this offseason. This left Kris Medlen as the longest-tenured Brave, who made his Atlanta debut less than 5 years ago in May 2009. Medlen himself is a stand-up guy who is a grade-A teammate, and also does great things for the community. However, we all know that his season is over, barring unexpected good news on Monday.
So while Medlen still figures to be a leader for the Braves, they still need a leader on the field. After Freddie Freeman received a franchise-record contract (both in years and dollars), many speculated that he would take over as our clubhouse leader. No offense to FF, but I just don't see that happening. Don't get me wrong, Freddie is one of the best teammates in the game, but being a great teammate is not always analogous to being a great leader. Also, this is not so much a knock on his qualities, but instead a high praise on Heyward's.
I have always thought of J-Hey as a guy I would want to be my team's captain (as a fan or a teammate). I always thought he would eventually emerge as this team's leader, and especially so after McCann and Huddy left. This kind act didn't convince me of this, but left me with proof that he's moving towards that role. Heyward has all the qualities you want in a player you want guiding your clubhouse. He is a professional, hard-working, passionate, highly talented, and genuinely nice human being. He always makes time to talk to fans and sign autographs or take a picture or two.
What really sticks out to me about Jason is his seriousness, and this especially separates him from Freddie in my eyes. He also knows how to have fun like FF and jokes around a bit, but he seems to know exactly when to put his game face on and be serious. Whenever I see him during games, he is quiet and has this stone-cold look on his face that lets you know he means business. Then, the second the games ends (and if the Braves win), he and the Uptons meet in the outfield and do their celebratory jump.
Another thing a leader has to do is speak to the media quite often. This is really what separates the men from the boys, as you have to know that you are representative of your entire franchise any time their is a camera/microphone in front of you. Heyward has always been professional in this context - excited after a win, but still level-headed and focused on doing it again the next day - somber after a loss, but never criticizing teammates or managers, and also finding positives even after a blowout. The only thing I think he has to improve here is opening up a little more, but by nature he has a bit of a reserved personality (at least, compared to professional athletes in general).
As you can probably tell, J-Hey is my favorite player. I see him as a role model and love him as a player, but also admire him as a person. But even looking at it objectively as a business decision, I think we need to keep Jason in Atlanta for years to come. We all know the potential he contains, and he will need to let that shine through in the next year or two in order for the Braves to commit to him. The chemistry he has with all of the players on the team and the leadership skills he possesses are invaluable to a baseball team in my opinion. Now to justify the type of contract Heyward will demand (even with a hometown discount), the on-field performance must be there too. So here's to hoping for a great 2 years for J-Hey and many more - I just hope they're all in Atlanta.