LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL. --- Or, Kissimmee, or Disneyworld, if you prefer.
Where the Braves are taking shape in the spring, anyway.
You've heard the stories of the rising star whose blasts are measured by the yard.
Whose prodigious clouts have caused auto insurance rates in the Braves parking lot at Champion Stadium to rise out of sight.
Not either of the Jones boys, Chipper or Andruw, ever caused such a furor in his spring debut.
I speak here of a tall, lithe lad named Jason Heyward, who appears destined to open the Braves season in rightfield, and I support this daring supposition by referring to the man who has seen enough to say so---David O'Brien, who sees more of the Braves than any of us.
Of course, you say, what is spring training for if not for these bright, fresh young nuggets who flash across these Florida skies?
Then, of course, eventually settle into the outfield of Gwinnett, or even Mississippi, down on the farm.
Not this one. Not Jason Heyward, tall as a Georgia pine, lean as a whippet and blessed with a bibliography that ranges from coast to coast.
And yet, is basically a home boy who grew up down the road in the capital of Henry County
Spring training is not what it used to be.
Rookies now come to camp richly-endowed. Somesuch as Heyward are carefully nutured, for his is a talent of a rare nature.
He is a product of Ivy League parenting. Both parents are Dartmouth College alumni. His mother majored in French.
His father got his degree in engineering, and played on the Big Green basketball team, after ranging from coast to coast due to a family divorce.
After graduation and marriage, Jason's parents moved to McDonough when the boy was two and a half years old, and the story begins to take legs.
Eugene Heyward came
to McDonough with ITT Industries, and there Jason first
found his calling. His dad was coach on a boys league team,
and the lads sometimes could be found along I-75 peddling
donuts to help pay for equipment.
And it was then that the Braves first came into Jason's life. His dad took him to a game occasionally.
"My first love was baseball," he'll tell you, though his
physique is perfect for a tight end or small forward.
His dad made a 90-mile roundtrip commitment
for his son to play on the East Cobb team, where the better
amateurs polished their game, and Jason was on his way.
His body has filled out in keeping with his ambition.
He came to Florida thoroughly armed for success, a
magnificently athletic body with all the tools, and while
Grapefruit League statistics mainly impress only sports
writers, Jason is around the top of the crop.
Expectations run high. Baseball America ranks
him the No. 1 rookie of the spring.
Ahead of Neftali Feliz, who would have been a Brave if not for the
Mark Teixeira deal with Texas, and Stephen
Strasburg, Washington's $15-million kid pitcher,
and an impressive cast. It is safe to say that if you
make it on opening day, you'll be seeing "Jason
Heyward, rf" in the Braves lineup.