Look out! Heyward's drives doing serious damage
Jason Heyward's batting practice drives are costing the Atlanta Braves - but local body shops aren't complaining.
Heyward launched a shot over the right-field wall this week that smashed through the sun roof of assistant general manager Bruce Manno's car. The bill was $3,400.
Heyward has dented other vehicles, too. So much damage, in fact, the young slugger is turning the parking lot into Jason's Junkyard.
The daily demolition derby has forced the Braves to take action. Stadium workers are installing protective netting to safeguard the cars and any unsuspecting people walking around.
The Braves spent 12 years at their spring training home without worrying. Heyward, a 20-year-old outfielder and perhaps the top prospect in baseball, forced a change after one week of workouts.
``I guess they just figured it's time to stop waiting around on that,'' Heyward said.
Other hitters reached the lot long before Heyward. But the frequency with which the 6-foot-5, 245-pound masher sends line drives over the wall made it necessary to take immediate steps.
``It's more pronounced this spring with everyone looking at Heyward and he's the one doing it,'' Braves manager Bobby Cox said Friday.
The parking lot is behind the bullpen at Champion Stadium on the Disney World property. Behind the parking lot is a wall about 20 feet tall - Cox calls it the Yellow Monster and Heyward has also cleared that wall, sparing some cars broken glass.
Manno wasn't so fortunate. On Friday, he was still without his car, which was damaged Tuesday.
``Half of the roof was shattered and the track that the glass slides back and forth on was damaged,'' Manno said. ``It was bent. The entire thing had to be replaced.''
``I don't know what happened to the ball. I wish I had the ball. I would have had Jason sign it,'' he said.
It's not as if the left-handed hitting Heyward pulls every ball. He's tries to avoid turning every round of batting practice into a home-run derby. Aiming for all fields, he hit the distant video board behind the wall in right-center on Thursday.
Heyward hit a combined .323 with 17 home runs and 63 RBIs in 99 games at Class A, Double-A and Triple-A last year. Showing a good eye, he drew 51 walks with 51 strikeouts.
Heyward has a chance to earn the Braves' starting job in right field.
``He's all he's made up to be,'' said veteran Eric Hinske, who joined Heyward's four-man group during the first week of batting practice. ``Everything you read is all there. The body is there. The swing. He's got a unique sound when the ball comes off his bat, and he can hit the ball really far.''
``He's amazing, he really is, the way he takes batting practice,'' he said. ``He can pull the ball and then he's playing pepper with that big black board in center field. He's definitely got long pop, that's for sure.''
Heyward seems to be the only person in the Braves' camp who is not buzzing about the homers. He just shrugged when asked about similarly impressive shots in his past.
``I just try to hit the ball hard,'' he said. ``I've got a big frame and I guess that's what does it.''
He said line drives that previously hit in front of the outfield walls are now sailing over the walls.
``Nothing has changed,'' he said. ``Same workouts. I'm just growing. I'll be growing into that grown-man strength soon, hopefully.''
Henry County High School coach Jason Shadden, who was an assistant when Heyward played at the school south of Atlanta, said the star did similar damage years ago.
``I saw him in batting practice knocking down the top of trees,'' Shadden said Friday. ``There was a big oak tree in center field. You would see the limbs falling down. The tree is not there now.''
Atlanta-area hitting instructor C.J. Stewart, a former Cubs minor leaguer who has worked with Rockies outfielder Dexter Fowler and Andruw Jones, said Heyward is impressive even while hitting in a cage.
``I'll never forget last year he hit a ball and it was one of the best swings I'd ever seen,'' Stewart said. ``Something told me to go get the ball. He hit the ball on the trademark of the Louisville Slugger bat. The part that says 'Genuine' was embossed on the ball. I've never seen anything like that. That's just how hard he hit it.''
Stewart said the ball disappeared from his desk.
``If he does it again, I'm putting it in a vault,'' he said.
NOTES: LHP Billy Wagner was ill and held out on Friday. ``We don't want them to come if they're sick, they'll spread it around,'' Cox said. ... RHP Jair Jurrjens is eager to throw off the mound as he continues to feel better after feeling tightness in his right shoulder before spring training.