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.”