Right here at the top, before I really dig in, there’s something important I want to say to all the Cubs fans out there.
More than anything, I just want everyone to know that showing up for work each day as a Chicago Cub and playing at that ballpark in front of everyone in Wrigleyville … that was one of the all-time great honors of my life.
I mean that with all my heart. It was truly an honor.
It’s been seven amazing years for me in Chicago, so there’s a ton I want to say here — and I’ll do my best to get to all that — but it’s important for me to begin this thing by just being direct and making it clear how fortunate I feel to have gotten this opportunity. Playing ball for the Cubs, doing what I love at Wrigley Field, it really was a dream job for me. The history and tradition of this franchise, the passion of our fans, that stuff always mattered to me. I was proud of it. Proud to be a part of it. And even during the times when I was struggling, or wasn’t playing my best, there was never a bad day for me at Wrigley. Rain or shine, four hits or four K’s, I always felt like I was doing what I was meant to do … in the exact city where I was meant to do it.
I definitely felt that way when we all broke the curse together in 2016. When the rain started falling and we turned things around and got it done at the end of Game 7. But to be honest with you, it goes way deeper than that for me.
Way, way deeper.
The first time I came to Chicago, I was 20 years old. A kid, basically.
This was when I was with the Braves in 2010, my rookie year, and I can still, to this day, remember a ton of details from that trip.
Just to set the stage a bit, you have to understand … I’m a baseball head. I live and breathe this game. Always have, even when I was little. As a kid, my room was filled with team banners and pennants. I had pictures of my favorite stadiums hanging on my wall. I knew all about Wrigley back then — the ivy, that giant scoreboard in centerfield, I loved all of that.
So, for me, that initial trip to Wrigley as a major league ballplayer was like a kid going to Disneyland for the first time or something. I was in awe. Of everything.
I felt this kinship with all the people who’d stood in that spot before — Babe Ruth, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, on and on.- Jason Heyward
I remember after our plane landed, we dropped off our bags and the first thing we did was hit up Gibson’s as a team for some steaks. (Shout-out to Eric Hinske and Brian McCann for absolutely demolishing those carrot cake slices!) So I got a taste for the city and its whole vibe before I even made it over to the ballpark. I loved everything about it.
And then, the next day, when it came time to head over to the field….
From the second I got out of the cab it was like I was in the middle of a dream. It felt absolutely surreal. Everything about it was special. Once I got through those turnstiles, that popcorn smell hit me hard, and then, from there, you’re just looking at baseball history every direction you turn. I’ll never forget that first walk from the clubhouse out to the field. I had no idea what I was in for. I mean, you want to talk about a crazy hallway? It’s like a maze, really. But that walk is still more special to me than any walk out to any field ever.
Coming down those steps, the super-narrow hallway, making four or five turns at different angles, with that ballpark smell getting stronger and stronger — the mix of grass, dirt, hot dogs, beer and popcorn all rolled into one — I had butterflies the entire time. Then, right before I reached the dugout it actually got a little dicey for me. I’m six-five, and that ceiling, I mean … it’s just really, really low. I remember I almost zoned out and banged my head that first time. But even with that, it was like, Hey … alright! That’s cool!!! This place has been around for a while. (There weren’t a ton of dudes my size back in the day. Low ceilings weren’t a big issue, you know what I mean?)
After I made it to the dugout, looking out and seeing that field from the perspective of a player? As a major leaguer? Nothing could’ve been better. I felt this kinship with all the people who’d stood in that spot before — Babe Ruth, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, on and on. And walking out onto that field, no lie … it actually felt like I was floating. It was like, Maaaaaan, look at this place. This is where I’m about to go play baseball right now. This is where I get to go to work today.
And look, it’s not like I knew on that afternoon that I was going to be a Cub at some point in the future. How could I, right? But I can tell you for certain that I felt something extremely special that day. Over the course of just a few hours, Chicago had made its mark on me. It had gotten into my system.
When I became a free agent 5 ½ years later, that was the first time I genuinely felt like I could decide for myself where I wanted to be. And it’s no surprise where I picked.
In the years that had passed since that first time I walked out onto the field at Wrigley, my admiration for the city of Chicago, and everything about this place, had only continued to grow. I had done the River Walk, loved spending time by the lake, had explored Grant Park, Millennium Park. I’d biked all around. I’d taken everything in.
So all of that just really helped me to see the full picture. That was the icing on the cake.
It was a situation where I looked at that roster and it was like, This team is ready to do big things. I saw that mix of incredible veteran leadership with guys like Jon Lester, and David Ross, and Rizz, and Dex, and on and on, but then also the young players like KB and Javy and Schwarbs who … you could just tell they were about to be stars. I saw that mix and it was like a dream opportunity to be a part of something like that. Then, you add on top of that everything I’d come to love about Chicago — the people, the community, just all of it.
It became a no-brainer.
At the end of the day, I left some money on the table by turning down some other teams’ offers, but I was perfectly O.K. with that. Because I knew exactly where I wanted to be.
Of course, with me, when it comes to 2016, all anyone ever wants to talk about is that team meeting I called during Game 7.- Jason Heyward
Once I signed, it was clear to me from pretty early on that we had something special. I mostly just remember how that team grew together over the course of that 2016 season, to the point where we honestly felt like we were unbeatable. We were all just so locked-in and confident. We never knew who was going to get the big hit, or make the game-saving play, or get that huge K with the game in the balance, but all of us, game in and game out, truly felt like we’d find a way.
Of course, with me, when it comes to 2016, all anyone ever wants to talk about is that team meeting I called during Game 7. And I honestly feel like that’s been talked about to death. But I guess here’s what I can add at this point in time, after the passage of a few years and the addition of some hindsight.
That team meeting worked — or whatever you want to call it — because the exact right people were in that weight room during the rain delay in Cleveland.
This wasn’t some big planned-out thing. It was just me seeing our guys as down as I’d seen them all year, while at the same time knowing — absolutely knowing! — that we were the better team, and that someone had to do something.
I just happened to be that someone, that’s all.
I noticed how shook everyone seemed after we blew that lead, but I also knew with every fiber of my being that we were still going to win that game. So then, obviously, something needed to happen to get from point A to point B. Something had to be said. It wasn’t some incredible speech, though. There were no magic words or anything. I just told the guys we were the better team, and we were still going to win. There wasn’t that much more to it.
The only magic involved was the precise mix of people who were in that room. But the whole thing was … that magic was so powerful. That mix of guys. I mean, you want to talk about magic? There’s your magic right there. It wasn’t in a meeting, or some speech, or some guy who told his teammates to gather in the weight room.
It was in the special group of people who made that team what it was.
In that moment, when the rain started to fall, for whatever reason … that was my time.- Jason Heyward
So, me? I was just mainly in the right place at the right time. But make no mistake about it: I’m definitely proud that I will always be able to point to that game and say, “You know what…? I did my part.”
I may not have had the best season on the field that year, but in that moment, I did something that helped my team, my brothers, make history. And that feels good. It makes me happy inside, just knowing that I played a part in what happened. That I did something that was positive.
In that moment, when the rain started to fall, for whatever reason … that was my time.
And I did what I had to do.
That’s pretty damn cool, honestly.
As cool as that moment was, though, I hope that it’s not all I’m remembered for when people look back on my time as a Cub. And I’d like to think that, maybe even more than my defense or the big hits I was fortunate to get, some of the things that I brought to our clubhouse will not soon be forgotten.
As a young player, I had learned so much about leadership from guys like David Ross and Chipper and Eric Hinske, some of the best leaders imaginable. So prior to joining the Cubs I saw the benefits that can result from being positive and encouraging and lifting people up. I saw how that stuff can make a big difference to a ballclub over the course of a season. So I can honestly tell you that during my time as a Cub, good day or bad day … I always tried to be the best, most supportive teammate I possibly could. I took great pride in trying to make my teammates’ jobs easier — whether by giving them feedback they may not otherwise be getting, or sharing some perspective from earlier in my career, or talking about something I’d learned along the way, whatever I could do.
I always felt like, when it came down to it, if I could provide some support or advice or inspiration, that was going to help a guy as a person go home and feel better about himself, but it would also make the team better, too.
So hopefully I was able to make a difference in the clubhouse and maybe some of the things I preached will still be around for a while after I’m gone.
Other than that, I just truly hope that Cubs fans remember how much I have always loved and appreciated them.
Even before I signed with Chicago, I always had respect and admiration for the fan base here. It’s not easy to show up night in, night out, day in and day out, dealing with some of the weather in April, the heat in the summer, the doubleheaders. They’d gone a lot of years without making it to the mountaintop, but they never stopped showing up, never stopped caring. And I’m very, very proud to have been a part of the group that gave this fanbase that closure in 2016.
There’s real, genuine love there on my end when it comes to Cubs fans. It’s not just lip service. That’s real. It’s why when I would run out onto the field before our games, I would always give our fans that “I love you” sign.
And, you know what? Let’s be honest here: When you say you love someone, or you love something, you understand … that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Sometimes there’s sacrifice involved. Sometimes things can get rocky. That’s just how love is sometimes, right?
With me … things weren’t always easy on the field in Chicago. I didn’t always perform how I wanted to during my time as a Cub. And when I didn’t come through, I felt for our fans more than anyone. When they hurt, I hurt. But during the especially tough moments for me as a player, I always felt like the Cubs fans were still hopeful, still optimistic, still pulling for me just as hard. That they were always on the edge of their seats, expecting something positive to happen, regardless of how things had gone in the past.
And I think some of that might have to do with what we did in 2016. I really believe that what we accomplished as a group that year gave Cubs fans a sense that, Hey, the game’s not over until it’s over. Who knows what could happen? You just never know. It’s like … I’ve seen stranger things.
They saw us be down and out against the best teams in the game … and then we somehow found a way. Sometimes it looked dominant. Sometimes it looked like pure luck. Sometimes it looked funny as hell, but we always found a way to get it done.
And maybe that’s the sort of gift that keeps on giving.
Two more things before I get out of here. First, let me just say that I am so tremendously grateful to everyone in this organization, up and down the line — teammates, coaches, the front office, all of the staff, the clubbies, the people who work the concession stands, the ushers, security staff, everyone behind the scenes at Wrigley working day in and day out to make that ballpark the special place that it is.
It’s been truly wonderful to partner with each of you on this journey. You’re all family to me. I’ll never forget you as long as I live.
The Ricketts family, especially … I cannot thank you all enough. You made these past seven years extremely special for my family and I. I’ll never forget the kindness and respect you showed me, no matter how things were going on the field. You guys always checked in on me when injuries happened, and you made me feel valued at all times — like a person, not just a player or a uniform number. That meant everything to me. What you accomplished in doing something that hadn’t been done in 108 years … that will never be forgotten. I’m just thankful that I was given the opportunity to be a part of that.
And to my friend David Ross, man … my gratitude to you knows no bounds.
Being a rookie and having my locker next to yours for three years with the Braves, it allowed me to get a master class on how to handle your business in this sport at a high level. I got to see the value in having high character, in treating people well, respecting the game, and doing everything in your power to help your team be the best possible version of itself. And to have played alongside you in Atlanta, and then for us to end up back together again here, and to share so many special moments together in Chicago? That absolutely means the world to me.
There were some tougher years recently, for sure. But you’ve always been a brother to me, always shot me straight. No matter what. And I cannot possibly thank you enough. I’m so proud to call you my friend.
Then, the very last thing I’ll say is this: No matter where I go or what I do from here on out, Chicago will always be special to me.
Something I tell people all the time about this city is that every time I leave and then come back home, it feels even more special.
And, yes, I absolutely used that word — home — intentionally there. Because that’s what Chicago is to me now. It’s home. This is where my family and I live. We love it here. We’re not going anywhere. So while I can’t wait to see what the next chapter looks like for me, one thing I know for sure is that Chicago is going to continue to play an important role in my life. Going forward, I plan on being an even bigger part of this community. You’ll see that in a huge way in a few months with this new baseball academy we’re getting ready to open up in North Austin, but I promise you … we’re just getting started.
And, you know what? Don’t be surprised if, a few years from now, you look up and I’m part of the Chicago Cubs family again. I just have so much love for this organization and this team. So if they’ll have me, and if I feel like there’s a way that I could be helpful — maybe in some role where I’m helping ensure there’s a good connection between the players and the front office, helping to share perspectives to make sure everyone stays on the same page — that might be something that’s a win-win. I’ve experienced so much in this game, and maybe there’s some perspective gained that can be useful to players down the line, or that can help ensure they’re in a good place. That’s something I feel like I might really enjoy, just being able to give back in that way.
So who knows? We’ll see. Time will tell. But either way, I’m never going to stop loving this city as long as I live. Thanks for making me feel like I belong, Chicago. And….
Go, Cubs, go. Forever.