ST. LOUIS -- After two months of debating where he'd fit in the lineup and whether he'll be with the team for more than a year, Cardinals fans enjoyed their first opportunity to welcome new outfielder Jason Heyward to town.
Heyward joined teammate Kolten Wong, manager Mike Matheny, team president Bill DeWitt III and principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr. at a Hot Stove Live! event that drew an estimated 1,000 fans into Ballpark Village on Friday night. The program built up to Heyward's introduction, which marked his first public appearance in St. Louis since the Cardinals acquired him in a November swap with the Braves.
Heyward was joined at the event by his parents, Eugene and Laura, who watched the hourlong program from seats just in front of the stage.
As the initial applause for Heyward died down, Matheny presented his new outfielder with a No. 22 jersey, a tangible gesture of the manager's earlier decision to hand over his longtime uniform number to Heyward, who chose the number several years ago as a way to honor a high school teammate who died in a car accident.
In return, Heyward handed Matheny a jersey with the manager's new chosen number -- 26.
During a question-and-answer session with Cardinals broadcaster and event emcee Dan McLaughlin, Heyward revisited the moment when he took a call from the Braves informing that they had traded him. As he processed the idea of leaving the organization that had selected him in the first round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Heyward was also anxious to learn where he'd be going.
Told it was to St. Louis, Heyward responded, "Thank goodness."
He went on to express relief in not having to face the Cardinals' pitching staff as an opponent anymore and spoke of his eagerness to join a team that has "a goal to be playing at the end of the season." He also left the door open for a St. Louis stay that could extend beyond this season.
When asked by a fan if he has already considered signing an extension, Heyward answered: "Here I am now in St. Louis, and I hope I never have to leave."
Friday's event served as the kickoff to a busy weekend of baseball in St. Louis and is expected to be a permanent addition to the Winter Warm-Up weekend schedule in future years. The program also offered an opportunity for fans to hear directly from ownership about the direction of the organization and to listen to Wong reminisce about his 2014 postseason heroics.