As a return visit to Wrigley Field nears, former Chicago Cubs OF Jason Heyward embraces a new opportunity with the LA Dodgers

Seven months ago, Jason Heyward was unsure of the next step.

He openly wondered if his impending offseason release from the Chicago Cubs might mean the end of his career. The Los Angeles Dodgers provided the ideal environment, however, and most importantly a clear path to making a big-league roster.

Heyward’s fresh start in LA has been accompanied by a powerful first impression. While the contact issues still exist, three of the 33-year-old’s four hits have been home runs. It already exceeds his home-run total with the Cubs last season, when he recorded one in 151 plate appearances. Heyward hasn’t produced a double-digit home-run season since 2019.

He nearly slugged his fourth of the season Saturday night against his old team, but Cody Bellinger, in the comfort of his old home, tracked the ball perfectly to snag it on a leaping catch at the center-field wall and rob Heyward of a two-run homer in the second inning.

“I thought it was a homer off the bat, then he looked like he had a bead on it,” Cubs starter Jameson Taillon said. “That was one of the best catches I’ve ever seen.”

Patrick Wisdom’s homer in the fifth inning, his fifth of the season, stood as the game’s lone run until the ninth. With two outs and runners on second and third, Dodgers pinch hitter David Peralta connected on Michael Fulmer’s first-pitch cutter for a two-run single to right and a 2-1, walk-off L.A. victory.

“Going into spring training and just having a chance to fight for a spot on the team, that was really cool,” Heyward said this weekend. “Obviously I’ve done it before but not in this position.

“It’s always fun to help. I always want to be a part of a lineup that contributes and adds depth to the team. … We work really hard to have a good approach as a group. It’s fun to come through.”

Heyward didn’t want to get into the specifics of any adjustments he made to his swing, aside from generally citing bad habits he developed over the last few seasons. He wanted to get back to being in a consistent position to create more room for error within his swing.

To prepare for his new environment, Heyward spent a few weeks during the offseason at Dodger Stadium to get comfortable. He praised the Dodgers hitting coaches and the daily examples and feedback he can receive from fellow left-handed hitters on the roster. Although he didn’t reference any of those teammates by name, Freddie Freeman and Max Muncy are the two most notable lefties.

“You want to have a consistent set of eyes and people who you consistently work with on a daily basis,” Heyward said. “Being somewhere for seven years, you can see some turnover. I would say it’s not ideal to have a few different hitting coaches, but that’s a part of the game. Especially when you have success, some people are going to move on and get other jobs.”

Heyward isn’t quite ready to envision what his return to Wrigley Field this week will entail when the Dodgers visit for a four-game series beginning Thursday. He last appeared in a Cubs home game June 19 but didn’t know at the time it would be his last. Heyward went on the injured list June 30 because of a knee injury and didn’t play in another game for the Cubs.

The Cubs are on the hook this season for the final $21,280,000 of Heyward’s eight-year, $184 million contract.

“I’ll settle in for sure and think about it as we get closer,” Heyward said of his return. “But I’ve done that before. I’ve been a visitor at Wrigley Field. But it’ll be cool to see people.”

Heyward witnessed one core dissolve and the beginnings of what the Cubs hope are their next championship cornerstones after extending the contracts of Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner to keep them alongside Dansby Swanson and Seiya Suzuki. Heyward was thrilled to see Happ and Hoerner rewarded for their hard work.

“Teams have money, they spend it on who they want to spend it on,” Heyward said. “That’s something that’s always been the case. I love them to death. Been to battle with them, spent numerous hours with them off the field. Really happy for them and their families — they definitely deserve it. The Cubs didn’t miss on those two guys character-wise or as far as what they can do on the field.”

Happ and Hoerner have grown into bigger leadership roles the last two years, often crediting Heyward for the impact he had on them. Heyward’s legacy in a Cubs uniform will continue to last beyond the World Series title and his charitable work in the city.

“I had guys do the same for me,” Heyward said. “It’s nice to be able to pass that along. I think that’s the biggest part of the game, the fraternity we have and guys being able to relate and share perspective to make it easier on the next group.”


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