New environment is more his speed, but can Jason Heyward make it as a Dodger?

Being stashed on the Cubs’ injured list was “definitely difficult,” Heyward said, but it wasn’t the worst part of being with the North Siders in 2022.

SHARE New environment is more his speed, but can Jason Heyward make it as a Dodger?
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Jason Heyward performing an outfielders’ drill at Dodgers camp in Glendale, Ariz.

Ross D. Franklin, AP Photos

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is “bullish” on what former Cub Jason Heyward can bring to his new team. 

First baseman Freddie Freeman, who was part of the same Braves draft class as Heyward in 2007, is raving about the adjustments the long-struggling lefty has made to his swing and insists Heyward, a good friend to this day, is going to hit.

Heyward, 33, is on a minor-league contract with the powerhouse Dodgers, yet his locker in the spring-training clubhouse is right between those of stars Freeman and Max Muncy — a show of respect, at the least, if not an indication of where he stands at this critical career crossroads.

“I’m loving what I see so far and really pulling for him,” Muncy said. “One, I think he can help us. Two, I hope he has a good year for himself — and I think he’s got a good chance.”

The Cubs released Heyward with a year left on his eight-year, $184 million contract and are responsible for a whopping $24.5 million of his 2023 salary. After non-tendering center fielder Cody Bellinger, the former MVP now with the Cubs, the Dodgers need an outfielder or two to step forward. It might require a heck of a leap of faith for Cubs fans to believe that could be Heyward, whose offense had become nonexistent by the time the Cubs gave up on him midway through last season.

Being stashed on the injured list was “definitely difficult,” Heyward says, but it wasn’t the worst part of how things ended for him on the North Side.

“Showing up without the expectation of winning was the toughest part of last year,” he said. “That’s not the way I grew up playing the game. Fortunately enough, I’ve been on a lot of really good teams that showed up every day to compete and win; it was always on the front of their minds. But when that stopped being the case, that was real tough.”

The Dodgers environment reminds Heyward of his brief time in St. Louis and, early on, in Atlanta.

“Personnel-wise, there’s a lot of consistency here as far as [whom] you’re going to see on a daily basis, and I feel like it’s been that way throughout the organization for a long time,” he said. “In Chicago, there was a lot of turnover each year in personnel. …

“But [the Dodgers are] special. There are a lot of winners in here and a lot of rings. To play out a contract with a new team whose reputation speaks for itself — just to be noticed by them and have interest here — it’s the best opportunity I could ask for.”

THREE-DOT DASH

Heyward on another old friend, former Cubs teammate Dexter Fowler, Marquee’s newest studio analyst: “Everything Dex touches turns to gold. He’s going to crush it.” …

Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts, one of the game’s biggest stars, keeps in contact with Bellinger — whose own offense went off a cliff the past couple of seasons — and is quick to take up for him.

“Hitting is hard, man,” Betts said. “Anybody can say, ‘Oh, he’s got to hit better,’ but those aren’t the people doing it, you know what I’m saying? The people that are saying he needs to be better are not in the big leagues. The guys in the big leagues are saying, ‘Keep playing, keep doing the same things you’ve been doing,’ because it’s really all you can do.” …

Uh-oh: Pete Crow-Armstrong is no Cubs fan.

But isn’t he their top-ranked prospect? Didn’t the outfielder grow up rooting for the Cubs? Where did things go so very wrong?

“Nah,” he said, “it just means more to me as a player now than as a fan.”

OK, false alarm. …

Indiana v Northwestern

Northwestern’s Chris Collins after a win against Indiana.

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Northwestern basketball coach Chris Collins is on the 15-man watch list for Naismith coach of the year. He probably doesn’t have much of a chance to win the national award, but he’s one of only two under consideration from the Big Ten — Purdue’s Matt Painter, no surprise, is the other — and certainly could edge Painter for conference honors. It would be a first for him. …

How is it that Kansas has four more Quad 1 wins than any other team in the country — a huge margin — yet is merely No. 6 in the latest NET rankings? Attempting to understand the math involved never fails to remind me of Curly from “The Three Stooges” lamenting, “I try to think, but nothing happens.” …

My in-progress college basketball AP Top 25 ballot, with Northwestern’s result against Iowa pending: 1. Houston, 2. Kansas, 3. UCLA, 4. Alabama, 5. Purdue, 6. Arizona, 7. Virginia, 8. Texas, 9. Miami, 10. Baylor, 11. Marquette, 12. Tennessee, 13. Creighton, 14. Kansas State, 15. Gonzaga, 16. Xavier, 17. UConn, 18. Indiana, 19. Providence, 20. Saint Mary’s, 21. San Diego State, 22. Texas A&M, 23. Pittsburgh, 24. Kentucky, 25. Northwestern. 

THIS YOU GOTTA SEE

“Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” (9 p.m. Tuesday, HBO): Why are so many of the world’s sports federations, including FIFA, basing their operations in Switzerland? Because their rampant bribery and corruption goes largely unchecked by the government. What, you thought it was the fondue?

Northwestern at Illinois (8 p.m. Thursday, BTN): The Wildcats go for their first victory in Champaign since 2013 and their first two-game season sweep of the Illini since … hang on, still looking … 1966.

Nets at Bulls (7 p.m. Friday, NBCSCH): The All-Star break is over, but the Bulls’ six-game losing streak is very much alive. Maybe, just maybe, it ends here.

ONLY BECAUSE YOU ASKED

From Matt, via email: “So, whom do you nominate to replace Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams?”

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Arturas Karnisovas — new Sox veep?

Chicago Bulls,

Is that a trick question? This is Hahn’s 23rd season with the White Sox. Williams has been Jerry Reinsdorf’s guy for over 30 years, not counting his time as a player. Dried beans and white rice only wish they had such shelf lives.

Although maybe Reinsdorf should at least consider flip-flopping his teams’ front offices? Let’s see what Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley can do with the Sox. Let’s see what Williams and Hahn can do with the Bulls. Admit it — you wish you’d thought of it.

THE BOTTOM FIVE

Arlington Bears: If only our guys were as good as the Arlington Renegades, who won their opener against the Vegas Vipers 22-20. Fine, sorry, no more XFL references.

DePaul: Look, it’s shameful enough to be 3-13 in Big East play. But the real indignity is being only a game ahead of Patrick Ewing and Georgetown.

Spurs: Gregg Popovich’s team is so utterly terrible, sideline reporters are turning him down for interviews.

Mike Clevinger: Speaking of interviews, the controversial Sox pitcher might not be volunteering to do any more of them for a while.

February in Arizona: It was in the 30s last week. Anybody seen my violin?

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