Beyond his three hits with a stolen base and the first run scored of the 2015 St. Louis Cardinals season, outfielder Jason Heyward gave Redbirds fans a lot of reasons to be optimistic during his team's Sunday season opener.
While they had tons of talent last season, the one ingredient the Redbirds seemed to lack in 2014 was spark.
The club seemed to wait for the big play to come to them instead of forcing the issue. And, too often before a late season rally that secured a playoff spot, it didn't come at all.
Heyward wasn't waiting for anything. He was aggressive at the plate, on the bases and in the field. Not only did it pay off for him. But that kind of play is contagious and helped lead St. Louis to four stolen bases on the night. This from a team that didn't steal 60 all last season.
The confident style of play made the Cardinals seem like men among boys compared to their opponents, the Chicago Cubs. St. Louis knocked them back on their heals early and, despite the fact that the Birds could never really deliver a knock out blow, the Wee Bears seemed befuddled by their opponent and never mounted a serious comeback effort.
While St. Louis has a vocal leader of the pitching staff in ace Adam Wainwright, the leaders of the position players, catcher Yadier Molina and left fielder Matt Holliday, are the strong, silent types. Leaders by example. The didn't have a rah rah guy to rally around amongs the starting eight -- until now.
Heyward is a fun player to watch for fans, as evidenced from all the comments I've heard from Atlanta Braves rooters sorry to see him go. I imagine he also makes the game a lot more fun for his teammates, playing the game with confidence and a high level of energy. He confidently punched his fist into his glove on a high fly ball like a high school kid on one play. Later he snared a long fly ball at the base of the right field wall with a swipe.
He smiles when he plays. Not as if he is disengaged. But because he realizes he is a great player in a great situation with the world by the tail and he enjoys every minute of it.
There is a long season ahead. But Heyward seems like he could be a great player around whom to build the next generation of the Cardinals. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a long, beautiful relationship.