A pair of physically imposing 23-year-old veterans, Heyward and Freeman could be featured in the middle of the Braves' lineup for many years to come. Their journeys have been quite similar, including the fact that both of them have already experienced the horror of watching a loved one lose their battle against cancer.
Heyward has never forgotten the aunt who succumbed to lung cancer during his childhood. And over the past 12 years, Freeman has never gone through a day without thinking about his mother, Rosemary, who died of melanoma when the Braves first baseman was just 10 years old.
"When you lose a mother or father, it's still the hardest time of your life," Freeman said earlier this year. "All we can do is think about her and all of the positives and have fun with it. We know she's watching. So all we can do is make her proud up there."
Cancer is a destructive disease that does not discriminate. It has the power to both orphan and afflict children. It has no sympathy for those like longtime Braves broadcaster Pete Van Wieren, who was diagnosed with cutaneous B-Cell lymphoma.
Van Wieren has maintained the fighting spirit promoted by the Stand Up To Cancer Campaign, which Major League Baseball will promote again during this year's Winter Meetings. "The Professor" was originally diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and again in each of the two years that followed. He felt celebratory pride recently when his doctor informed him that he is cancer-free.
"When you go through something like this, you appreciate good health," Van Wieren said. "It's come and gone three times. I know I'm not completely out of the woods, but it feels good to know that I am cancer-free."
These Winter Meetings include an MLB.com Auction to benefit Stand Up To Cancer, which MLB has supported since 2008 as founding sponsor. Public relations representatives from all 30 clubs were inspired to act based on individual club members impacted by the disease, and they jointly organized the auction and announced it Monday in Nashville with MLB staff. Bidding closes at 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday with more than 70 baseball-related experiences ranging from clubhouse tours by players to lunches with general managers to team bus rides to meet-and-greets with 14 Hall of Fame players.
There are three Braves-related items available during this auction. This first one provides the opportunity to make the most of a trip to Spring Training. The winner of this package will receive four one-day "park hopper" passes to Walt Disney World, four tickets to a home Grapefruit League game and four on-field passes that will allow the opportunity to meet manager Fredi Gonzalez and some of the players.
A second package includes four tickets, four pregame field passes and a parking pass to any 2013 Braves game (excluding Opening Day) at Turner Field. This package also allows the winner to meet and take pictures with one of the following players: Tim Hudson, Brian McCann or Craig Kimbrel.
The third package includes one autographed baseball from each of these three legendary Braves: Hank Aaron, Chipper Jones and Dale Murphy.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.