Jason Heyward explains what Jackie Robinson Day means to him and why black kids aren't pursuing baseball

Jason Heyward explains what Jackie Robinson Day means to him and why black kids aren't pursuing baseball

Jackie Robinson Day is one of the best annual Major League Baseball traditions where everybody around the league dons a No. 42 uniform.

Jason Heyward held court at his locker Saturday before the 2017 iteration of Jackie Robinson Day and explained what the event means to him.

"It's great to be able to have it every year," Heyward said. "Some things, the game won't let you forget, which is awesome. It brings people together for a common reason.

"We love to play; we love to watch as fans. It's awesome to be able to put differences aside and have that common ground, share that passion for one game. It's a step in the right direction, I feel like, to be reminded of things like that."

Heyward is going throwback with his look for Saturday, wearing high socks as homage to the style of the trailblazer who helped bust down the color barrier in professional baseball.

It's also notable for Heyward he gets to experience Jackie Robinson Day at Wrigley Field, the only current MLB stadium Robinson played at (he hit .295 with a .400 on-base percentage in 93 career games at "The Friendly Confines").

"To get to do it here, at this stadium," Heyward said. "The history that's here, as well. It's just really cool. I feel like it takes you back and it makes you feel like you get to be playing in that time for a day.

"It's one of the fun things about this game is you get to pay homage to a historic moment like this, especially for off the field, the impact it had as well."

Heyward also spent a lot of time discussing his thoughts on why black players are not more prevalent in baseball.

Only 7.7 percent of MLB players are black in 2017, which is only up a tick from the 6.7 percent in 1956, Robinson's final season.

Major League Baseball is more diverse than it's ever been with 34.6 percent of active players on the 2017 Opening Day roster registering as non-white.

But why aren't there more black players in the game? 

For starters, five black players began the year on the disabled list, which skews the numbers.

Heyward offered other ideas:

"As far as college, I feel like any household that says, 'Get an education, try to do better for yourself, start a family,' those kinds of things — the scholarship numbers in baseball are really low," Heyward said. "There's not a lot of opportunity there. You look at trying to go to college and hopefully get a job and set yourself up for a career — even outside of sports — football has a lot higher numbers.

"I feel like seeing more people in a direction where there's more opportunity. It's hard to make it in baseball regardless."

So what can baseball do?

"I don't know," Heyward said. "Talk about people trying to have a job after school. As far as playing a sport, guys want to go to college and have sports pay for their education some. Everybody's family can't afford to take out a loan. People still have to pay back loans well after they're out of school.

"I couldn't tell you where to being as far as getting guys into college. As far as kids playing in the inner cities and in general, they're playing. Especially in Georgia, where I grew up. A lot of African-Americans are playing baseball. 

"It's all about pursuing that dream and having the means to do it and also being lucky and being able to make it."

Heyward's passion for baseball originated as a kid. His father outlawed football in the household because of the violent contact involved in the sport, but baseball was always the favorite of Heyward's dad, who was a Mets fan in the 1980s in the heyday of Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry.

Heyward himself said he really got into the game traveling around the country playing as a kid and watching Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson.

"Once I saw that, I thought, 'I wanna try and do this forever,'" he said. "It stuck and here we go."

Cubs’ Ian Happ claimed center field after AAA detour: 'He's the real deal'

Cubs’ Ian Happ claimed center field after AAA detour: 'He's the real deal'

Ian Happ paused before answering, the moment of silence punctuating his matter-of-fact response.

“No,” he said. “I don’t feel that way.”

Looking back, he doesn’t feel like he rose to the Major Leagues too quickly.

Happ has had to field that question since spending 2/3 of last season in Triple-A. But already this year, Happ has hit three home runs, tied for the most on the team, while also maintain a top-three batting average (.297). Not only is he performing on the field, Happ has also embraced a leadership role and taken over for Kris Bryant as the team’s MLBPA representative.

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“He’s the real deal,” Ross said Sunday, after Happ went 3-for-3 with two doubles in the Cubs’ intrasquad scrimmage.

The club’s decision to send Happ to Triple-A Iowa at the beginning of last season came as a surprise. Much of Happ’s conviction that he was ready for the major leagues when he debuted came from his standout rookie season.

Happ hit 24 home runs as a rookie – still his career high – and finished eighth in rookie of the year voting in 2017. His batting average regressed the next year (from .253 to .233), and his strikeout number rose (from 129 to 167). But he joined the .350 club in on-base percentage.

“We believed then and we believe now that he’s going to be a really good player,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said this week. “We thought it was the right move and something that was necessary even though it was really unpleasant to send him back there. To his credit, he made the absolute most of it, took personal responsibility.”

When Happ returned to the big leagues, his progress showed. He won NL player of the week in the final week of the season. But he’s made even more of a splash this year, from Spring Training through the first two weeks of the regular season.

Entering the year, center field was one of the main position battles to monitor for first-time manager Ross.

“Right now, the job is Ian Happ’s,” Ross said Sunday.

Ross’ lineup choices had suggested as much already. Happ has appeared in all 13 of the Cubs games, at least pinch hitting in the three he didn’t start.

“It’s hard to take Ian Happ out of the lineup,” Ross said of the switch-hitter. “The guy’s swinging the bat really well, and his right-handed at-bats have gotten tremendously better. He’s been a staple.”

Happ started his season off with a two-run home run in his first plate appearance. He was batting ninth, and through all of Ross’ reshuffling of the bottom third of the batting order, Happ has been the Cubs’ most frequent nine-hole hitter.

With the Cubs’ No. 7 and 8 hitters consistently getting on base, in the nine-hole has showcased Happ’s ability to drive in runs (he’s tied for second on the team with six RBI) or set the table for the Cubs’ unconventional top of the order.

“I feel great about where I'm at right now,” Happ said, “my ability to help the team and get on base for those guys that are hitting behind me.”

Just as he set the tone in the batter’s box early, with an Opening Day home run, Happ flashed some leather in the opening series against the Brewers. Three days into the season, Happ tracked a long fly ball back to the wall. He leaped and caught it just before his back slammed into the ivy, which barely cushioned the brick behind it.

Happ slid down the wall into a crouch, his body no doubt feeling the results of the impact. But it wasn’t long before he stood back up.

“I think he absolutely took advantage of his time down (in Iowa),” Epstein said, “and is in a different and better phase in his career now because of what he went through.”



How Cubs temporarily grabbed White Sox spotlight during Sunday Night Baseball

How Cubs temporarily grabbed White Sox spotlight during Sunday Night Baseball

Even with the White Sox on center stage, the Cubs found their way into the spotlight.

“We’re gonna aggravate everybody in Schaumburg with this,” ESPN broadcaster Matt Vasgersian said Sunday. “White Sox fans, sorry about this.”

The White Sox made their first appearance on Sunday Night Baseball since May 12, 2013 on Sunday. But early in their matchup against the Indians, the ESPN broadcast momentarily pivoted towards the North Siders.

ESPN showed the results of a social media poll asking baseball fans what they make of the Cubs’ 10-3 start to the season. Of the more than 52,000 respondents, 41 percent said they’ll start to fade soon, 34 percent said they’re a World Series contender and 25 percent said they’re a division title contender.

“Apparently, we had a lot of respondents calling from the South Side of Chicago,” Vasgersian joked.

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The Cubs were scheduled to appear on Sunday Night Baseball before their series against the Cardinals was postponed. So while the poll’s appearance was no coincidence, some White Sox fans probably weren’t happy seeing it pop up mid-game.

“White Sox (fans) are saying,” Vasgersian said, “‘It’s the first time we’ve been on Sunday Night Baseball since 2013 and we gotta talk about the Cubs?’” 

White Sox fans have aired their grievances in recent years over the team being forgotten by national media, especially as the Cubs have received plenty of coverage. This may not fall under the same category as previous occurrences, but it certainly brings back memories of those moments.