Heyward feels new vibe in return to Atlanta

Cards outfielder recalls 'a lot of fun' coming up with Braves

Heyward feels new vibe in return to Atlanta

ATLANTA -- Jason Heyward grew up in Atlanta and spent the first five seasons of his Major League career as one of the Braves' most popular players. But when he returned to Turner Field on Friday for the first time since being traded to the Cardinals, Heyward was not necessarily feeling sentimental.

Beginning with the November trade that sent Heyward to the Cardinals, the Braves have spent much of this past year overhauling the organization through a flurry of trades. Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran and Christian Bethancourt are the only members of Atlanta's current roster who played with Heyward last year.

"It would be more of a homecoming if more of my teammates I had played with were here," Heyward said. "Right now, there's not a whole lot of guys left. So it doesn't feel too homecomingish. I know this is the team I broke in with and I played a lot of games with. But it's a different team and a different vibe."

While the Braves are putting the final touches on a rebuilding season during this final weekend, the Cardinals are simply waiting to see who they will host to begin their National League Division Series next week. St. Louis notched the NL's best record with the assistance of Heyward, who entered Friday batting .292 with 13 home runs, a career-high 23 stolen bases and a .797 OPS.

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Heyward -- who was not in the starting lineup Friday night -- said it did not take him long to grow comfortable with his new teammates and the Cardinals' fan base.

"It's been a blast," Heyward said. "I feel like they match me and mindset in that you're trying to get to the World Series and win it every year. You've got to punch your ticket. You've got to be in it to win. The goal from Spring Training is to be a part of the October postseason, and it's a lot of fun having a fan base behind you that wants to make that happen."

When the Braves traded Heyward to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins, they acknowledged they were not willing to provide the big payday the 26-year-old right fielder is expected to gain when he enters free agency next month.

Still, Heyward has fond memories of the years he spent playing in his hometown. He energized an Opening Day crowd in 2010 when he homered in his first career at-bat and helped the Braves reach the postseason three times in five seasons.

"From my first memory to my last, it was a lot of fun," Heyward said. "I had a lot of good teammates and members of the coaching staff. We had a lot of good times here, and we played a lot of good baseball."

Heyward has remained in contact with close friend Freeman and has attempted to help the Braves first baseman deal with the frustration he has felt during an injury-marred season.

"I just tell him to stay positive and don't do anything stupid to make it worse for yourself because I know he's boneheaded with stuff like that," Heyward said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.