ST. LOUIS – The boos started during pregame introductions on Monday night, even with stretches of empty red seats throughout Busch Stadium. It only took the public-address announcer mentioning Jason Heyward’s name and his image appearing on the big video board in right-center field framed by the Gateway Arch.
If The Best Fans in Baseball still feel jilted after The Decision – or tired of all the hype surrounding the Cubs – know that the St. Louis Cardinals probably couldn’t have done anything to change Heyward’s mind.
A 5-0 win highlighted why Heyward switched sides in a rivalry that’s becoming the Midwest version of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, signing an eight-year, $184 million contract for the chance to play at Wrigley Field, experience Chicago and win the franchise’s first World Series since 1908.
“Everybody is entitled to their opinion,” Heyward said. “If somebody boos me here, that means they were not happy to see me leave.”
Heyward – who got traded from the Atlanta Braves after the 2014 season and has spent less than 19 percent of his big-league career in a St. Louis uniform – got booed before his first at-bat. A sellout crowd of 45,432 cheered when Heyward (0-for-4) struck out looking against Mike Leake.
Heyward also got booed again after making diving catches in right field, showing off his Gold Glove defense to take away hits from Matt Holliday and Kolten Wong in the first and seventh innings.
Heyward’s comments during his welcome-to-Chicago press conference in December struck a nerve in St. Louis, where he saw the core of catcher Yadier Molina, pitcher Adam Wainwright and outfielder Matt Holliday eventually splitting apart.
“A hundred percent” that was blown out of proportion, Heyward said. “It wasn’t about age for me. It’s just about the fact that some guys’ contracts will be coming up. Some guys will not be here for 10 years.
“In Atlanta, my first three years, I feel like we had a great core group with some guys that did some special things in this game and are still doing some special things in this game.
“It was kind of a heartbreaking feeling/experience for me that the business broke us up that quickly. And dealing with the process of figuring out where I’m going to go free agent-wise, I just felt like Chicago was going to give me a great opportunity to be with these guys for the majority of my contract.”
The exact figures are unclear, but both the Cardinals and Washington Nationals were believed to have made offers in the neighborhood of $200 million, with Heyward leaving bigger guarantees on the table. Heyward framed his opt-out clauses after the 2018 and 2019 seasons as a compromise once the Cubs only agreed to give him full no-trade protection through the first three years of his contract.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” Heyward said, the Cardinals were willing to do whatever it would have taken to get a deal done. “They had their intention (of) keeping me here. They said that – and they followed through with their actions. That’s all anybody can ask for.
“It didn’t come down to contracts, whether it was opt-out (clauses), whether it was full no-trade (rights) or what have you. It just came down to taking the opportunity – to be where I wanted to be and for the first time in my life having a choice.”
Heyward described playing in St. Louis as an “awesome experience,” called his former teammates “my boys” and predicted his old team won’t fade away anytime soon. The Cubs will face the Cardinals 18 more times this season and what a rematch this would be in October.
“They don’t really rebuild in St. Louis,” Heyward said. “There’s a lot to be said about teams like the (San Francisco Giants keeping) certain groups together for a long time. I feel like I was a little bit late to the party (with) this St. Louis group.
“Some guys are going to be moving on soon. It’s nothing to do with their age. It’s not me saying they can’t go out and hit a fastball or they can’t go make a play or Yadi can’t do anything behind the plate.
“It’s got nothing to do with that. It’s just I’m not going to be there physically with them, bonding with them, jelling with them for the majority of a 10-year contract term.”
Or as Alfonso Soriano – who used to shrug off the weight of having the biggest contract in franchise history with a huge smile on his face – liked to say: “They don’t boo nobodies.”