ST. LOUIS -- Jason Heyward wasn't sure what to expect as far as how Cardinals fans would welcome him back to Busch Stadium, but he did want to make one thing clear: He enjoyed his time with the team and would've stayed. It simply came down to taking advantage of the opportunity to choose where he could play.
"I had a decision to make," Heyward said Monday prior to the Cubs' 5-0 victory over the Cardinals. "There's a lot of familiar faces with this group in Chicago, some guys I played with who are coaching now, some guys I saw in high school before I got to professional ball, some guys I played with my first three years in the big leagues. Timing is everything.
"It's just weird how it happened. When it came down to making a choice, I felt, why not go try this city, Chicago? You don't know what's going to happen as far as a World Series, playoffs, but I do know I always loved playing there, loved playing at Wrigley Field. Why not go try to play there for 81 games?"
Heyward, 26, took advantage of free agency, and signed an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Cubs in December. He said the Cardinals offered similar money and perks, such as a no-trade clause. The decision wasn't the contract, Heyward said.
"It's the first time in my life having a choice," he said.
And Heyward's comment at his introductory news conference that he would "rather grow up with a bunch of guys and make them family and be able to cherish that without feeling like I had to restart," wasn't referring to the age of the Cardinals players. He was talking about their contracts.
"I felt like Chicago will give me a great opportunity to be with these guys for the majority of my contract," he said. "St. Louis was a special experience. It allowed me to go step out and be myself again. Free agency is free agency. I had to make a decision."
With the Cubs, Heyward can grow up with players such as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber.
"He left a great organization here, coming off a 100-win season," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Moving forward, we're more than happy he chose us. He fits in so perfectly. ... He fits anywhere. He doesn't just fit in Chicago, he fits anywhere. ... He is pretty much the poster child for a five-tool baseball player."
One season with the Cardinals did convince Heyward that he wanted to stay in the National League Central.
"When I think about baseball, the way I learned playing it growing up is old-fashioned -- you want to get dirty, play the game the right way, you want to do little things," he said. "Big things are fun, home runs are fun, web gems are fun, but a team game is really emphasized in this division."
So, what if fans boo him at Busch Stadium?
"People can do what they want to do," Heyward said. "Everybody's entitled to their opinion. ... If somebody boos me here, that means they were not happy to see me leave. I'm kind of glad people weren't happy to see me leave. That's a good thing."
Heyward, who went 0-for-4 with a strikeout, was greeted with a mix of boos and cheers when he stepped to the plate in the first inning.