Jason Heyward expected a harsh reception from St. Louis Cardinals fans. He sort of looked forward to it, and even took off his helmet in acknowledgement when he heard the boos before his first at-bat.
"If somebody boos me here, that means they were not happy to see me leave," Heyward said Monday before making his first appearance in a Chicago Cubs uniform at Busch Stadium. "I'm kind of glad that people weren't happy to see me leave. The fans should enjoy it and we're going to enjoy it."
The crowd cheered with vigor when Heyward took a called third strike from Mike Leake in the first inning.
Heyward got a $184 million, eight-year contract with the Cubs. The Gold Glove right fielder also turned down an offer from the Washington Nationals. He described it as a "life decision."
"Chicago was always a place I loved to play," he said "It was absolutely a tough decision but at the end of the day I need to be happy for myself."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said after 8 1/2 months together last year, there was no need to reach out to Heyward in the offseason.
"What more am I going to tell him over the phone that he hasn't already seen up close and personal?" Matheny said. "He had all the information he needed about the St. Louis Cardinals."
Heyward said his comments about being a part of a younger core group have been misconstrued in St. Louis. The Cardinals have several up-and-coming players, including Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk and Kolten Wong but their primary group is older.
Heyward had been concerned that over the years he was "not going to be there bonding with them, gelling with them for the majority of a 10-year contract." He said ex-teammates understood his choice and that "off the field we still chit-chat, text and keep in touch."
"Everybody's not going to understand. Everybody's not going to be happy when they do understand," Heyward said. "That's the only disappointing thing about the whole situation, that things got taken out of context and made to look a different way than what it was. And that's OK, but I know me. They know me."
Heyward is off to a slow start, batting .205 with no homers, two doubles and seven RBIs. He has hit more than 18 homers just once but the Cubs needed him to strengthen an order that includes Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.
The NL Central-leading Cubs also signed John Lackey, who led the St. Louis staff last year, to a $32 million, two-year deal. Lackey started the series opener Monday.
Matheny said the 37-year-old Lackey did a great job of setting an example for younger pitchers and added, "It's hard to imagine we'd have had the kind of season last year without him."
Lackey was a 13-game winner for St. Louis, and also beat the Cardinals in the deciding game of the 2013 World Series when he was with Boston. Monday was his first regular-season start against St. Louis, the only team he hasn't beaten.