Andrelton Simmons addition reunites 2012 locker-mate trio with Cubs

A decade ago, the lockers of Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons and David Ross stood next to one another in the Braves’ clubhouse.

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New Cubs shortstop Andrelton Simmons goes through infield drills at the Cubs’ Spring Training facility in Mesa, Arizona.

New Cubs shortstop Andrelton Simmons goes through infield drills at the Cubs’ Spring Training facility in Mesa, Arizona.

John Antonoff/Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward chuckled when asked what kind of locker-mate manager David Ross was when they played together in Atlanta. 

“This space right here,” Heyward recalled this weekend, tapping the corner of a box next to his chair. “If a flip-flop went partly over the line, he would let either one of us know, like, ‘Fellas, clean this s--- up.’ ’’

The veteran catcher would say so straight-faced and walk off. Then he’d look back and laugh. 

The lockers of Heyward, Ross and Andrelton Simmons, from right to left, stood next to one another in the Braves’ clubhouse a decade ago. Now the trio is back together with the Cubs in slightly shifted roles: Ross the manager, Heyward the veteran, Simmons the newcomer. 

“It was nice to see Simba,” Ross said when the Cubs signed the shortstop to a one-year deal this spring. “I’ve got a long history with him. He’s got a pretty good résumé, fits in well up the middle with our [contact-oriented] pitching staff, gives us a lot of versatility with moving different guys around.”

Simmons was the last piece added to the locker-mate trio in Atlanta, too. Heyward was given a locker next to Ross when he broke into the big leagues in 2010.

The highly touted hometown kid at the time, Heyward was on the fast track in the minors, making his major-league debut before he hit 1,000 at-bats.

“It was always everything it needed to be,” Heyward said of his relationship with Ross then. “Dead serious sometimes but always supportive, always out of love and realizing that I just wanted to come in, be a part of the team and do what I can to help and learn.” 

Two years later, Simmons was on a similarly fast track before his debut in June 2012. When asked about that time, Simmons brought up a poker case that some of the veterans made him carry around. No one ever used it, Simmons said, but he still had to have it with him. 

“Humbled me a little bit,” he said.

Now Simmons is 32, has played for four teams before joining the Cubs and has established his defensive credentials. 

“I’m excited to pick his brain a little bit,” second baseman Nick Madrigal said last week, “ask him questions.” 

Simmons might be new again, but he’s certainly not a rookie schlepping around a poker case anymore. 

“It’s funny,” Heyward said, “because any memories [Ross] and I had, as far as me being a rookie and him watching me grow up some, I feel like I’ve kind of had the same opportunity with Simba.”

Plenty of things have changed since the last time Heyward, Simmons and Ross shared a dugout. And exact roles and playing time — which are Ross’ decisions — have yet to shake out this spring. 

Simmons is expected to lighten the load for Madrigal and versatile infielder Nico Hoerner. The Cubs also signed infielder Jonathan Villar over the weekend. As a switch hitter, Villar gives Ross more flexibility to play matchups. 

Heyward has moved from right field to center to make room for Seiya Suzuki, whom the Cubs added on a five-year, $85 million deal. 

The locker-mate trio also knows more than it did in 2012. Ross, Heyward and Simmons see the game differently.

“A second chance,” Heyward said, “just to hang out again, to compete together, to make each other better, to watch each other make other people better. It’s a cool feeling.”

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