Colorado is gorgeous in the summer. Winter gets most of the attention because of the ski resorts, but summer has its own intense beauty and excellent outdoor pursuits.
If I were Joe Maddon, I would have made Jason Heyward take advantage of it while the Cubs were there. A day hike among a riot of wildflowers. A whitewater rafting trip. Some time atop a mountain that no hitting guru could scale. Maybe a tour of the state’s burgeoning herbal industry.
Instead, the manager kept his struggling hitter in the dugout for the three-game series against the Rockies in Denver. Actually, describing Heyward as “struggling’’ might imply that he has known something besides struggle this season, that there have been hills to go with the valleys. But his season started out at rock bottom and has hugged the ground ever since. The guy with the eight-year, $184 million contract is hitting .225, which works out to about $10 million each time he has had success at the plate. Or something like that.
It’s why Maddon finally acknowledged the obvious and gave Heyward some rest starting Thursday against Milwaukee, “rest” being a euphemism for a benching. But I wonder why Maddon didn’t take it a step further in typical out-of-the-box fashion. Not a trip to the bench but a vacation in the mountains.
Giving a struggling accountant time off from his job but making him stay in the office to watch other accountants work sounds more like abuse than compassion. In a way, that’s what the Cubs have done with Heyward. For a mental break, why don’t you watch the thing that is mentally bashing you over the head?
When swinging a bat has become like wrestling an alligator, a ballpark would seem like the last place to go to recharge your batteries. You might be resting your body, but you’re not getting away from the game. In fact, the game won’t stop staring at you. There’s no escape.
Maddon knows that many players have a tendency to do too much work before games. It’s why he has days when he won’t let his players take batting practice. Overwork might be part of Heyward’s problem. He has spent so much time in the cage this season he probably thinks he’s a UFC fighter.
So why not keep him away from the ballpark for a while? That might have been the better approach. Heading for the hills for a high-altitude attitude adjustment might have worked wonders. Or anywhere Heyward wanted to go. Rio de Janeiro. Melrose Park. I don’t care. The routine of baseball can be torturously monotonous for the players.
So make the time off for Heyward be time away from the park. Maddon can still do it.
What’s there to lose? The Cubs can’t be worried about shattering his confidence. His confidence has to be in pieces already. They don’t want to offend him, but it’s hard to believe anyone having as bad a season as he is could be offended. And if anybody should be offended, it should be the gods of baseball who have watched him at the plate this season.
The world being what it is, the moment the Cubs gave Heyward time off away from the park, rumors would begin to fly. Is he having personal problems? What’s he hiding? But the possible reward is worth the risk of his absence being hijacked by conspiracy theorists — the reward being that perhaps a refreshed Heyward hits closer to his career average (.262) in the playoffs.
There have been ongoing attempts to pump up Heyward’s feelings of self-worth this season. One you hear often from the Cubs is that he plays an excellent right field, which is true. Another is that he has hit the ball hard this season, which seems almost condescending, like giving trophies to divers for hitting the water. At some point, you just have to admit that a .225 hitter is a .225 hitter.
Next up for the Cubs is a three-game series in San Diego, another lovely place. Maddon has said Heyward will be back in the lineup against the Padres. Too bad. The idea to give Heyward time to “chill out a bit,’’ as Maddon put it, should come with a beach towel and an edict to stay away from the ballpark.
If you’re out of town on business but have no business in said town, what do you call it? Is it a vacation, a staycation or a Heycation? Whatever you want to call it, he needs one.