Jason Heyward of the St. Louis Cardinals is the most beautiful tree.
Jason Heyward does not announce his arrival so much as arrive. The best goddam prospect in all the land as a minor leaguer, Heyward hit a 471-foot no-doubter in his first at-bat as an Atlanta Brave. Made the All-Star game that year as a rookie. And homered in the first at-bat of his sophomore season too, for good measure. Yet, somehow it wasn’t enough. We waited … and waited … until a miserable string of injuries – from appendicitis to a fastball-broken jaw – turned the patient impatient. Breakout! Breakout!
We wanted petals when Heyward was already in full bloom. A tree stands stable and strong as is. Its enormity taken for granted because its method of development is incremental to the point of incomprehension. Heyward, at 6’5, is nonetheless modest upon inspection. Foliage in the outfield. He’s fast as hell without the slightest hint of mechanism. The antithesis of the gear. Even the heave of his entire body towards home is seamless like the soft edge of a school desk sanded in Nazareth. Perpetually grounded as if he was composed of not a single proton or electron. Only neutrons.
The failure of the hype surrounding Heyward has never been its scale so much as its scope. His highlights are quiet culminations of supernatural prescience. Opportunity reveals itself to Heyward and Heyward alone and, in an instant, an out. No puff of smoke, no drama. The climax is the only act. Heyward doesn’t break the game. He exploits it. He does the impossible within the possible. Never transcending context. And yet this illusion of ease, his gift of gold, is the very thing that marginalizes his feats to those in the seats surrounding the diamond.
A girl from my old neighborhood – you know, the type who never left and never will – shared a misattributed Tumblr quote that said something about being unable to lose something you never had. It’s been awhile since Jason Heyward has been cool and still, weathering a whirlwind of circumstances that can only be described as a shitstorm, he’s never lost his. Uprooted from his hometown team, Heyward was traded to St. Louis soil stained by both the blood of Michael Brown and the blood alcohol content of Oscar Taveras. These were the footsteps he would follow and the shoes he would fill. Of course, Heyward would stand as is. As always.
Not even the irrelevancy of the Same Old Sorry Ass Rams could shield its players from the St. Louis Police Department’s contempt after the receiving corps held their hands up in solidarity before a game at the Edward Jones Dome. The fact that Fredbird is some self-loathing sadsack without a sense of shame didn’t stop the mascot from cluelessly holding up a “POLICE LIVES MATTER” sign. Jason Heyward, the best player on the beloved Cardinals during a 100-win season, whose body boasts an unmatched surface area of blackness? He held nothing more than a bat every couple innings or so.
The Cardinals sought a bang, but the tumultuous 2015 season concluded in a fizzle at Wrigley Field. Heyward went quietly. His best performance coming in game 3 against the invincible Jake Arrieta when, according to FanGraphs, he “did a cool thing no one cares about.” You’ll know when he’s back. As if he never left.