With a media scrum huddled around his locker to discuss his first career All-Star nod, Ian Happ brought up Jason Heyward unprompted.
Heyward has made one All-Star team in his career, not with the Cubs. But Happ credits the 13-year veteran for helping him reach that status over the last calendar year as Happ went through deep struggles in 2021.
“Jason Heyward was a huge part of that, in the middle of last year,” Happ said July 13. “Having him after the deadline, talking through things, working through mental stuff and getting to this point.
“He’s been here the whole way, but a big part of that turnaround.”
That’s just one snapshot of the impact Heyward has had on the Cubs clubhouse during his seven seasons in Chicago.
Heyward has gone through his own deep struggles in a Cubs uniform, but his impact as a leader has been felt by Happ and others. Whether you think all the talk around that is overblown, it’s real.
The Cubs plan to release Heyward after this season, ahead of the final season of his eight-year, $184 million contract he signed before 2016, team president Jed Hoyer announced Monday.
Heyward has been on the injured list with a knee injury since late June and is unlikely to play again this season. The Cubs plan to keep him around over the final two months, with Hoyer noting the value Heyward brings every day as a leader despite being sidelined.
He’s been seen around the clubhouse at different points since going on the IL, including one occasion walking back with Happ from the batting cage in what appeared to be a deep conversation.
His relationship with Nico Hoerner extends on and off the field.
Hoerner and Heyward made their big-league debuts almost a decade apart, but they’ve grown close in recent years while working out together in Chicago during the offseason.
“Personally, I'm just super lucky to call him a close friend at this point, and just incredibly grateful that I lucked into a situation where I got to know him,” Hoerner said. “What he was for me was a lot more than just a veteran in the clubhouse.
“He gave me guidelines on what it means to play at this level and mix that with a life away from the field. He’s a very, very impactful person in my life. I'm just super grateful for my time with him.
“And that's not over because that's a friendship that's much more than just baseball at this point.”
Hoerner memorably was called off his couch, as the story goes, and promoted to the big leagues late in 2019 when the Cubs had an emergency need for a shortstop.
Three years later, he has emerged as a reliable all-around player and a cornerstone piece for the “next great Cubs team.” He’s taken lessons from the consistency Heyward brings on a day-to-day basis.
“He was able to be intense and compete — and was obviously invested in what he was doing — but able to always have a 30,000-foot view on things and stay level-headed through some really challenging situations,” Hoerner said.
“I just really appreciate that from him. Guys lead in different ways, and I think his consistency in that way is really significant. I learned a lot from that.”
That consistency is something manager David Ross brought up Monday night.
Ross, who's managed Heyward with the Cubs the last three seasons, was also his teammate in Chicago in 2016 and Atlanta from 2010-12.
"Having that guy around in any capacity, you’re really fortunate," Ross said. "He cares about others. He never passes blame. He’s always accountable. He’s a worker. He’s a good human. He talks about the right things.
"I don’t know if we’ve got enough time in this postgame for me to say what I think about Jason Heyward," Ross added, "how awesome he’s been to this organization and to myself.
"I’m glad he’s not going anywhere in the short term. I’m very happy about that."
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