What We (and Baseball Players) Can Learn From Jason Heyward

baseball2Concern. Growing concern. Devastation. That is how we, as Atlanta Braves fans, reacted. Jason Heyward is most likely gone for the season and the playoffs after being flattened by a 90 mph fastball that ricocheted off his jaw. Even the New York crowd gasped as the wayward pitch landed with a numbing thud.

At first we hoped the pitch from the Met’s Jonathon Niese hit Heyward’s helmet—or at least a partial hit of the head protection. But no; the ball hit square into the right jaw and the dazed Heyward immediately staggeringly twirled and began wilting forward across home plate as catcher John Buck reached out to stabilize him. While assisting Buck in catching Heyward in mid-fall, the umpire hastily summoned the medical staff.

Oh no.

People like me are mere fans. We want our Braves in the World Series. We have watched our 2013 Braves be surprisingly resilient in the face of injury after compounding injury. Now, the diving left fielding, game saving, base stealing and leadoff batting Heyward is lost for the pennant run. But that’s us. We are just the fans. What about Heyward?

What about Jason?

Jason Heyward, too, is a fan. He, too, has an interest in the success of the Braves. He also has an interest in, yes, his own well-being. That is what makes one piece of the replay of the hit so tantalizing.  While most of us will focus on the speed of the ball, the location of the jaw smack, the pain and the consequences of the injury on the National League race for home field advantage, there was something else that took place in the replay which caused me to endow more respect in the 24-year-old.

As Heyward was helped off the field, he looked back at Niese, and without a shred of disdain, acknowledged the genuine concern expressed by the apologetic jaw-busting pitcher.  The Associated Press reported, “Visibly concerned, Niese tapped himself with his glove as Heyward walked off, and Heyward appeared to acknowledge him.” Appeared? Like, maybe—only maybe—Heyward acknowledged him? There was no mere appearance. This is what struck me as I watched it—Heyward’s response toward Niese clearly communicated, “I understand. These things happen. No hard feelings. This is baseball.”

Jason’s Sermon

Heyward reaction is a lesson for all of us. I found three points in the sermon he preached as he walked off Citi Field with, not a game winning homer, but with an excruciatingly season-ending injury:

  1. Acknowledge that mistakes happen.  This wasn’t Strasburg retaliating. This was Niese missing high-and-in with his fastball. When Heyward was hit, it was a one run game. Niese didn’t want to put the potential, and eventual, game tying runner on base. It was an accident. So often in life, we want to place blame—or at least—place intentionality to every negative experience. We assume nasty motives. We imagine evil intent. Sometimes bad things just happen.  They happen in games. They happen in business. They happen in family. They happen in life…all of life.  Heyward understood this and his reaction showed it.
  2. Forgive. Even without intentionality, our mistakes hurt and leave consequences that others have to bear. Though Niece had no apparent malevolence in his errant pitch, he was the one at fault. Sure, it was an accident, yet he was the hurler who busted Heyward’s jaw in two places. Before Heyward ever hit the ground Niese was on his way to home plate to express his concern and to check on the ailing opponent. I didn’t see Niese express his apology through the self-tap of his glove as Heyward walked off the field, but I did see Heyward return the gesture. Forgiven.
  3. Build character. Some of us can train ourselves to respond appropriately when we have time to gather our thoughts. However, Heyward’s response in the moment of excruciating pain displayed an uncommon depth of character. I can’t vouch for Heyward at home or in the clubhouse, but as a casual fan, I see in him a demeanor full of maturity and self-control. Character doesn’t just happen—it’s built. Over time. In the small moments. But, most honorably displayed in the larger moments. Heyward had built a character base that was in place before he set one foot in yesterday’s batter’s box. His display of high character was not mustered up in a controlled environment, but revealed in a sudden moment of pain.  Noah didn’t wait for rain drops to start building the ark and Heyward didn’t wait for baseball tragedy before starting to build character.

I’m bummed we probably won’t see Heyward stand in the batter’s box until next spring. I’m sorry he has to endure the slow and painful recovery of a jaw broken in two places. Yet, I am grateful for the lessons he has taught us through his response to the unfortunate pitch.

Maybe, if I pay attention, I will be like Jason Heyward when I grow up.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by jackwbruce on October 6, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Update: The good news is that Jason did make it back in time for the playoffs.


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