MESA, Ariz. — This looked like one of Joe Maddon’s gimmicks gone wild, an Easter Sunday swarm of bees surrounding Jason Heyward in center and chasing the Cubs outfielder all the way out to the warning track.
Heyward jumped onto the fence at Sloan Park, trying to escape, but that didn’t work, either. He just kept swatting his glove through the air, brushing away the bees buzzing at his beard and waving around his blue Cubs hat.
Heyward estimated he got stung at least 10 times in front of a sellout crowd, the TV cameras and a social-media audience that loves stuff like this. Fans sitting on the berm wrapped themselves underneath blankets during a bizarre third-inning scene that interrupted the game for several minutes.
“It was no stunt,” Heyward said after a 12-9 loss to the Seattle Mariners. “It was real.”
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This came two days after the Cubs manager had his players pose for pictures with two cubs from Bearizona Wildlife Park, near the end of a Camp Maddon that has featured all sorts of diversions, from mimes to karaoke to hippie costumes.
Heyward had moved from right field to center when Dexter Fowler left the game after feeling tightness on his left side. The Cubs downplayed it and didn’t have a postgame update on Fowler, who did feel good enough to homer in his first at-bat. So the bees attacked Heyward.
“I wasn’t thinking to get out of there until it just got crazy,” Heyward said. “I just tried to get out of the way. I should have went over the fence.
“It’s OK. Not allergic.”
Heyward — who usually comes across as calm and cool and older than 26 — simply shrugged off the entire episode. But a plague descending upon a player at the beginning of an eight-year, $184 million contract sort of fit into the sometimes surreal vibe surrounding this team in spring training.
For Sunday's workout, Cubs players and coaches dressed like 1970s gym teachers with tight shorts and knee-high socks. The bees ultimately forced Cubs relievers to walk across the grass after the third inning and move into the right-field bullpen with the Mariners.
“That was wild — I’ve never had a delay like that before,” said pitcher Jason Hammel, who gave up two of Robinson Cano’s three homers and was charged with nine runs in 4.1 innings. “I had no idea. But once I figured out what was going on, you could see from the whole left-field line all the way out to center – they were everywhere.”
Now the question becomes: Can strength/conditioning coach Tim Buss find a beekeeper suit in time for Monday’s workout?
“The fact that Heyward isn’t swollen beyond belief right now — I don’t know how he made it out of that,” Hammel said.