Fans too quick to go haywire over Heyward



Chicago Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward catches a fly ball off the bat of St. Louis Cardinals’ Kolten Wong during the seventh inning on Monday, April 18, 2016, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. (TNS)

Jason Heyward might now have a $184 million contract in his pocket, but on Monday, that money also earned him nearly 44,000 Cardinals fans who want him to fail.

After Heyward chose Chicago over his one-time home in St. Louis last offseason, the new Cubs outfielder heard nothing but boos on Monday night at Busch Stadium against his new division rivals. The Cardinals’ so-called Best Fans in Baseball were more than a little upset about the budding superstar’s rejection when he signed the eight-year contract with another team.

But they shouldn’t have been — Heyward didn’t spurn the Cardinals, their fans or their city. This is just the most recent example of a fan culture that misunderstands its players and should think twice before booing just because a player chose to compete elsewhere.

The Atlanta Braves traded Heyward to the Cardinals after the 2014 season, where he played for one year before upgrading his paycheck from $7.8 million to $15 million this season. So, Heyward never actually chose to play for St. Louis — he was traded there on an expiring contract after five years with another team then had his pick of suitors over the winter.

“I’m kind of glad that people weren’t happy to see me leave,” Heyward said after the game. “The fans should enjoy it, and we’re going to enjoy it.”

Other players get booed all the time for all kind of so-called offenses.  Two years after the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, Johnny Damon signed with the rival New York Yankees instead of staying in his home of the past four years. Upon returning to Boston, the fans in Fenway Park let Damon have it.

Now, the Red Sox are in the opposite position, making a big signing of their own by grabbing ace David Price from the Toronto Blue Jays after he was traded there for the second half of last season.

Blue Jays fans probably won’t bully Price as readily as St. Louis have done to Heyward.

“It would be cool if they booed [Price],” Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman, a close friend of Price’s, joked in December. “He’s a division rival, you have to boo him. There’s no friends when it comes to competition.”

Stroman later tweeted at Price, “all good fun. You know I love you champ!”

Is the line between earning boos from fans a half season of service versus a full season? Because those few months are the only difference between how fans treated Price and Heyward, who has heard only vitriol and even injury wishes since leaving St. Louis.

Heyward even cited baseball-related reasons for his signing, noting the Cardinals’ older group of players with expiring contracts, as opposed to the Cubs’ young, team-controlled studs.

“Free agent wise, I just felt like Chicago’s going to give me a great opportunity to be with these guys for the majority of my contract,” Heyward said after Monday’s game.

Who can blame him? The outfielder is only 26 years old and is already with his third ball club. If stability was his goal, Heyward could not have stayed with the Cardinals. Their three aging core players — Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina — will be gone by the end of the 2018 season.

“He knows the expectations here, he knows what the city is about. Just because he knows all that stuff doesn’t necessarily mean he likes it,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Monday. “Sometimes, you make a decision because you feel it’s the right season. I can’t fault him for any of that.”

No matter the backstory, we’ve seen it time and again. Every offseason, dozens of notable free agents sign with new teams, and most of them are not the ones you’re rooting for.

Players are going to make free agent decisions that will benefit them and their families after they retire while also looking for a team where they will fit and develop. If a player who came over in a trade doesn’t choose to sign with your team, what is the surprise?

Heyward does not deserve the boos, and fans can better spend their time supporting their own team rather than trying to sabotage a player on a different one.

Besides, Octavio Dotel played for almost half of the league in his career, and nobody hates him. Let’s give Heyward, and these other players who switched teams, a break.

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