Cubs

Jason Heyward: Nothing shocking about Adam Jones hearing racist taunts at Fenway Park

Jason Heyward: Nothing shocking about Adam Jones hearing racist taunts at Fenway Park

Jason Heyward understands what it’s like to be Adam Jones, standing alone in the outfield, trying to concentrate on your job and hearing the racist taunts from the Fenway Park stands.

“Nothing really shocks me,” Heyward said. “I’m not saying that you expect it to happen, but you’re not surprised, I guess, just growing up African-American, growing up playing baseball.”

Heyward didn’t say this in anger or with any hesitation. The media crowded around his locker on Tuesday inside Wrigley Field’s clubhouse wanted a reaction to the Boston Red Sox apologizing to Jones, an All-Star center fielder for the Baltimore Orioles who represents so many of Major League Baseball’s best qualities.      

The night before, USA Today quoted Jones saying that “I was called the N-word a handful of times” and a fan threw a bag of peanuts at him in the dugout, dredging up bad memories from Boston’s divisive past. 

The Cubs had just enjoyed their weekend at Fenway Park, playing in front of sellout crowds and a national TV audience in a potential World Series preview. Heyward – the Gold Glove outfielder respected throughout the game for his sense of professionalism – didn’t have an edge to his low voice and spoke in a matter-of-face tone. 

“It’s not the only park I’ve been in where I’ve heard it,” Heyward said. “So that’s why I would say I’m not too surprised. And, again, when I say ‘not too surprised,’ I don’t mean it like ‘of course there.’

“It happens. I’ve heard it my whole life, so it is what it is.”

Joe Maddon – who made regular trips to Fenway Park with the Tampa Bay Rays – remembered the searing experiences as a minor-league manager in the mid-1980s in places like Little Rock, Arkansas, and Beaumont, Texas. 

“I’m coaching third base and there was some stuff coming out of the stands that I couldn’t believe,” Maddon said. “I went to the GM and I complained about it loudly and I wanted more security behind our dugout and he told me: ‘That’s just the boys having a little fun.’

“Then one time we had a situation in Beaumont where a fellow went out to the parking lot to get a gun and come back in (for) one of my black players, the right fielder. So you lived it – that’s 30 years ago – it’s even worse before that. 

“At some point, you’d like to believe it’s going to change, but who knows when?”

Jones is a Gold Glove/Silver Slugger performer, a leader for Team USA during its World Baseball Classic championship run, someone willing to speak his mind and engage in social issues. The players’ union recognized Jones as the 2015 Marvin Miller Man of the Year, an award that combines on-field excellence and community service.

In targeting Jones, Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber said, “It’s a shame that happened on a baseball field. It’s a shame that happens anywhere. It kind of leaves a pit in the stomach that we’re still at that point.”

“It’s just awful,” Maddon said. “But then again, what is the percentage? It is a small percentage of idiots that are going to let that come out of their mouths. And then it permeates an entire fan base in a negative way, (even though) you really know that (perception’s) not true, but that’s how we operate.”           

Red Sox owner John Henry and president Sam Kennedy met with Jones, who received a standing ovation before his first at-bat on Tuesday night at Fenway Park. The Red Sox are considering a lifetime ban for fans caught yelling racial slurs. But this isn’t only a Red Sox issue or a Boston problem. 

“It’s a part of sports,” Heyward said. “People are going to say whatever they think is going to help their team win and try and get under somebody’s skin. And then they’ll start drawing a line somewhere.

“It’s something I feel like a lot of people would just like to not hear anymore ever, but it’s part of life.”

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.”

 

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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.

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