Heyward set to honor fallen teammate

Heyward set to honor fallen teammate

ATLANTA -- When Jason Heyward dons his new No. 22 jersey and jogs to right field to make his much-anticipated Major League debut at Turner Field on Monday afternoon, his former high school English teacher will have every reason to be overwhelmed with emotion.

Along with being Heyward's favorite teacher at suburban Atlanta's Henry County High School, Tammie Ruston is also the mother of Andrew Wilmot, whose memory will forever be honored by the Braves' celebrated young outfielder.

When the team approached Heyward this past winter about possible jersey numbers, he was pleased to learn that the Braves were able to offer the same No. 22 that Wilmot wore while teaming with Heyward to help Henry County win the 2005 Georgia high school state baseball championship.

One year later, while attending college in Tennessee, Wilmot was killed in a car accident.

"This is for [Ruston] and her son," Heyward said. "He was one of my teammates and one of my good friends. This is not something where I'm saying, 'Hey, look at me, and this is why I'm doing it.' It means something to me, and I knew it would mean something to her and it always will."

Ruston, who still receives regular visits from Heyward during the offseason, has secured her tickets for Opening Day and will be positioned somewhere in the right-field seats, where she will have an opportunity to stare directly at the proof that the game's newest superstar still fully appreciates the time he shared with her son.

"We looked up to each other," Heyward said of his former high school team's catcher. "He was fun to be around. Everybody around school loved him."

Having spent the past month hearing about Heyward's Spring Training exploits, the city of Atlanta and Braves Nation have already developed a love for their 20-year-old right fielder, who has been described as the best young prospect since Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez.

Playing in front of a small crowd that attended Friday night's exhibition game against the White Sox, Heyward got a sampling of the excitement that he is expected to generate when he returns to Turner Field on Monday afternoon to begin his promising career.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.