ST. LOUIS - Jason Heyward, visiting Busch Stadium for the first time since he left the St. Louis Cardinals to sign with the rival Chicago Cubs, took great pains Monday to clarify some of his December comments, which he thinks were misconstrued.
At his introductory news conference in Chicago, Heyward said he would "rather grow up with a bunch of guys and make them family and be able to cherish that without feeling like I had to restart."
Because Heyward brought up the names of Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina, the Cardinals' championship holdovers, all of whom are in their early to mid-30s, most people viewed that as commentary on the team's aging core. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny took exception to Heyward's comments at the time.
Heyward said Monday that he wasn't talking about the players' ages -- he was talking about their contracts. If the Cardinals decline Holliday's $17 million option for next season, he could be a free agent in November. Wainwright is signed through 2018. Molina is signed through 2017 with an option for 2018.
"In Atlanta my first three years, I felt like we had a special group, some guys who did some special things in this game and are still doing special things in this game. Some guys have moved on," Heyward said. "It was kind of a heart-breaking experience for me that the business broke us up that quickly. Dealing with the process of figuring out where I'm going to go, 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."
Many Cardinals fans were hurt or angry that Heyward chose the Cubs, and many elected to boo the outfielder at the game Monday. Heyward said prior to the game that he was prepared for that and welcomed it.
"If somebody boos me here, that means they were not happy to see me leave," Heyward said. "I'm kind of glad that people weren't happy to see me leave. The fans should enjoy it, and we're going to enjoy it."
Although fans might hold a grudge against Heyward, several Cardinal players remain close friends with the slick-fielding outfielder. Randal Grichuk called Heyward the smartest player in the major leagues when ESPN polled him in spring training.
"We would have all loved to have Jason back and playing in here," Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal said over the weekend.
Matheny had nothing but nice things to say about Heyward on Monday, but he noted that he didn't actively recruit Heyward during the free-agency wooing period.
"If I didn't give him enough over eight-and-a-half months of having to look at me every single day, what more am I going to tell him over the phone that he hasn't seen up close and personal?" Matheny said. "I made myself available if there were any other questions. I kept that door open. What am I going to say? As much as we talk already, he knows what I'm all about, he knows the expectations here, he knows what the city is about. He had all the information he needed about the St. Louis Cardinals.
"Just because he knows all that stuff doesn't necessarily mean he likes it, whether it's me or any of the other things we just talked about. That's not the whole story, either. Sometimes you make a decision because you feel it's the right season. I can't fault him for any of that."