Former Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward gave back to the Chicago community last week, when he opened a new baseball academy in the Austin neighborhood. The academy is part of a new 150,000 square foot North Austin Community Center at 1841 N. Laramie Avenue, aimed at offering sports and wellness programming and education for local kids and families.
"I spent my time here as a Cub, as an athlete in this city," Heyward said via MLB.com, "and being able to be rooted on by a lot of people. But that's always going to come to an end, right? The playing side of the game -- for this city or another. But either way, this will always be here.
"There will always be new kids. There will always be new families. And to me, that's something that's always going to be passed along. I'm just so happy and excited to see what that brings -- the opportunities, the fellowship. It's something for this neighborhood to be proud of."
Heyward’s complex within the community center features a turf baseball diamond and batting cages. According to MLB.com, Heyward is helping to create the curriculum for baseball lessons, and is involved with the hiring of the baseball instructors. He also plans on visiting the complex in person when he’s able.
According to the North Austin Community Center project website, youth in low-income neighborhoods are four times less likely to play sports and six times more likely to quit due to barriers. They hope this new complex will level that playing field.
Heyward spent seven seasons with the Cubs and is perhaps best known for giving a pivotal rain delay pep talk in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Heyward signed a minor-league deal with Dodgers over the offseason, and will compete for an Opening Day roster spot at Spring Training.