Heyward adds to legend in first at-bat
Rookie begins career with homer in front of hometown fans
ATLANTA -- Wanting to celebrate his son's introduction to the Major League scene, Eugene Heyward purchased more than 60 tickets for friends and family members to attend Opening Day win at Turner Field on Monday afternoon.
While Braves fans will forever remember this Opening Day as the one on which Jason Heyward belted a 414-foot homer with the first swing of his career, the elder Heyward's memories of this blast will be blurred by the mob scene that he entered once his son sent Carlos Zambrano's 2-0 fastball into the Braves' bullpen beyond the right-center field wall.
"We went crazy," Eugene Heyward said. "We were all hugging, high-fiving and going crazy. I didn't actually see it. We were being mobbed by each other. We were knocking each other's hats and glasses off. We just saw the ball go out and after that we just erupted. It was unbelievable."
Considering that this marked just the fifth time in franchise history that a player homered in the first plate appearance of his career, Heyward's memorable first-inning homer certainly bordered on unbelievable. The blast gave the Braves a lead that they wouldn't relinquish on the way to a 16-5 rout of the Cubs.
"It's storybook," the elder Heyward said. "He's been blessed."
Blessed with the physical skills provided by his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame, Heyward managed to wow most of his veteran teammates, who have spent the past six weeks realizing why he is so widely regarded as such a special prospect.
"That was about as impressive of a home run as I think I've seen," Braves closer Billy Wagner said. "That ball was hit so hard. It was just amazing. The chances of that happening are slim and none."
After wowing Braves fans like Jeff Francoeur did when he homered during his first big league game or when Brian McCann homered off Roger Clemens in his first career postseason at-bat, Heyward entered another realm and jogged around the bases to the roar created by those same fans who had chanted his name as he strolled to the plate for his first career plate appearance.
"I felt my legs, but I couldn't hear myself think," Heyward said. "It was so loud. You just hear 'rahhhh' and that was cool."
As Heyward made his way back to the dugout after providing his club a 6-3 lead, he was greeted by Chipper Jones, who stretched his arms out and hugged the young outfielder, who is just three years removed from the stellar baseball career that he fashioned at suburban Atlanta's Henry County High School.
"He's a great kid," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "The players really love him."
After completing his postgame television interview, Heyward returned to the Braves' clubhouse, received a few congratulatory handshakes from the coaches and then quietly sat as his locker. Moments later, he was attacked by some of his teammates, who covered him in shaving cream.
"I won't forget that," said a smiling Heyward, who was also amused when Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez playfully acted like he was going to throw the home run ball into the right-field stands.
When Heyward took his position in right field before the top of the first inning, those fans in the stands behind him gave him a standing ovation that proved to be a little louder about 20 minutes later, when he returned to start the second inning while still feeling the sensations created by his first career homer.
While the fans have quickly come to love Heyward as a player, they don't appreciate or know him like Tammie Ruston, the phenom's favorite high school teacher who is also the mother of Andrew Wilmot, a former high school teammate who was killed in a 2007 automobile accident.
Heyward chose to wear No. 22 to honor Wilmot's memory and allow Ruston to always realize that her son made a lasting impact on his life.
As the elder Heyward was still basking in the glow of his son's memorable home run, he found Ruston wearing a No. 22 jersey and sharing a sense of overwhelming joy.
"I saw her and gave her a great big hug and said, 'I like that jersey,'" Eugene Heyward said. "She said, 'I like it, too.' It's just unbelievable. It's something that will bring tears to your eyes."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.