CHICAGO – His time on the field in the city has come to an end, but the former Cubs’ impact on Chicago has only just begun on the west side.
That’s because the now Dodgers’ outfielder will have a place at a 10-acre facility that provides a number of opportunities for members of the North Austin neighborhood.
“This was just organic. It happened organically,” said Jason Heyward in getting involved with a number of people on the project.
His baseball academy will be part of the complex at 1841 North Laramie Avenue located in the North Austin neighborhood. A ceremony was held on Thursday at the new facility that will give educational, sporting, and mental wellness services to members of historically underserved communities.
Creating the North Austin Center was part of a joint effort between Heyward and his wife, Vedrana, Chicago Fire FC, the Chicago Fire Foundation, By The Hand Club For Kids, Grace, and Peace Revive Center, and Intentional Sports.
A grand opening was held on February 2, which included Heyward, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Fire FC manager Ezra Hendrickson and others getting at the 150,000-square-foot center. It includes classrooms, an auditorium, two full-size basketball courts, and a 110-yard turf “Chicago Fire FC Field” that’s one of the biggest in Chicago.
Heyward said he was first introduced to the North Austin community in June 2020 by former Bears linebacker Sam Acho. In the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minnesota, he along with teammate Jason Kipnis took part in “healing circles” with Acho and the By The Hand Club.
When the chance to join this project came along, Heyward was quick to join in.
“Understanding the importance of the opportunities that baseball has given me. Signing with UCLA out of high school, being drafted in the first round by my hometown team Atlanta Braves, and that leading to me to a championship in Chicago, and a home, family,” said Heyward. “I just wanted to be a part of something, be a part of a group that, off the field, I have new teammates.
“Today you heard me speak about the clubhouse in Chicago, right, the new clubhouse in 2016. That was seven years as a player being able to call that home and my workspace. For me, this is something that will last forever, and there’s no time limit on that, and I want it to have that impact.”
Heyward understands the many ways it can as it now opens to be a space of learning in a number of aspects in the North Austin neighborhood.
“For one, it starts with being proud of your neighborhood, I understand what that’s like, being from Georgia, being from McDonough, having to drive so many many places across the state. My parents getting to a facility like this,” said Heyward. “To be able to get somewhere like that close is awesome, but then it’s also going to draw more from the south side, west side, obviously north side, the Midwest, and so on.
“It can become a staple that kids can say ‘This is where I came to fellowship, I have that opportunity to do that, to go do sport.’ Then you talk about the classrooms, the computer labs, the space where we had our meeting today where we got together in fellowshipped. To me, there are so many more opportunities that you show kids, through sport; there’s incentive, there’s coming together, there’s handling adversity and character.
“But then close by is mental health, nutrition, education, and then also, most importantly, family.”
Larry Hawley featured the opening of the North Austin Center in his “Random Hawlight” in the world of sports this week on WGN News Now, and you can watch that in the video above.