Among the 50,000 or so Braves fans at Turner Field, and the millions of baseball fans around the country who were impressed by 20-year-old Jason Heyward's debut Monday, one admirer stands out.
Hank Aaron, the Hall of Fame slugger and the most famous face of the Braves' franchise, was brimming with pride on many levels in the wake of Heyward's breakout performance.
"He can certainly bring the excitement back, not only for Atlanta but also for African-American players," Aaron told the Associated Press. "We do need to have many, many more Jason Heywards."
Aaron said Heyward "can mean an awful lot to what ails baseball" in terms of bringing more African-Americans back to the game. And he wasn't alone in that thought after Turner Field erupted in cheers for Heyward, who ripped a three-run homer with his first Major League swing in Atlanta's 16-5 victory Monday over the Cubs.
Former Atlanta Mayor and longtime civil rights leader Andrew Young was equally moved by how Heyward shook the ballpark, Aaron said.
"You don't know how excited I was, and not only me," Aaron said. "I was talking to Andrew Young about the same thing, and he wants me to bring him out there to meet Heyward. It's beginning to move through the black area. People are getting excited."
Aaron threw out the ceremonial first pitch Monday, and it was Heyward who received the toss. It was an obvious passing of the torch from a legend to a tremendous prospect, from a Hall of Famer who played right field in the Braves' inaugural season in Atlanta in 1966 to a 6-foot-5, 240-pound right fielder with incredible potential in 2010.
"He said, 'Have fun,' and told me I'm ready to do this," said Heyward, from nearby Henry County. "He said, 'Go out there and enjoy it.'"
Mission accomplished. Consider the Hammer duly impressed.
"He can be the kind of player that everybody dreams about, and coming from Georgia certainly has its advantages," Aaron said.
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.