05/15/11 6:35 PM ET
Players agree: CRG Weekend a big success
By Chris Cox / MLB.com
But little of it had to do with the fact that his club had just taken two of three games against the division-leading Phillies.
Rather, it had to do with the fifth annual Civil Rights Game, the first of two the city of Atlanta will host over the next two seasons.
"Personally, it was awesome. It was awesome to see our city show some support for the Civil Rights Weekend," Heyward said. "It was great to see the people they brought out from all over the country, all over the world."
Heyward saw little action in the field this weekend due to inflammation in his right shoulder, but was still thrilled with how the festivities went outside of the games themselves. The Georgia native attended Saturday night's Beacon Awards, which honored Morgan Freeman, Carlos Santana and Ernie Banks for their contributions to civil rights.
"That was pretty special in itself ... to see the great things baseball has done for the world and, hence, civil rights," Heyward said.
Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard also attended Saturday's banquet and left with similar impressions of both the ceremony and the weekend.
"I thought the awards dinner last night was excellent. It was fun to be a part of. It's great Major League Baseball hasn't forgotten," Howard said. "To take time out to reiterate that, and civil rights and how important they are, not only for the game of baseball, but just for an entire country."
However, Saturday's star-studded banquet wasn't Heyward's favorite part of the weekend.
"The fact that we could come play some baseball and everybody come together [was the best]," said Heyward, who noted his least favorite part was obviously being unable to start.
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, a close friend of Heyward's, said he was honored to be a part of a game that not only recognized civil rights but baseball's African-American history.
"Being friends with Jason and all that, and seeing how big it is for him, it just makes you more aware of what's going on," Freeman said. "Seeing all those people here [Sunday] was pretty special."
Freeman didn't get the opportunity to meet any entertainers like Morgan Freeman or Santana, but still got the chance to introduce himself to at least one celebrity.
"I didn't meet any of them but Bud Selig came through here," Freeman said. "So I got to meet the Commissioner. That was pretty cool."
The Civil Rights Game was also special to Venezuelan shortstop Alex Gonzalez. After all, it wasn't just African-American baseball players that were kept from playing professionaly with white players before Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Dodgers in 1947.
"I'm proud to be a part of this day. It's a big day," Gonzalez said. "It's a big day for the guys that played before us. Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, I've never seen them play but you hear so much about them. It makes you feel good to see those guys come to the stadium."
In all, the weekend's events were deemed a success by the players involved.
"It was a cultural difference. You got to see that," Heyward said. "You got to be a part of that."
But while the weekend's homage to civil rights may be over, each player made sure to point out that the battle for equality is still far from over.
"There are things that are still going on today," Howard said. "The country has come a long way, but there's still stuff going. There's still work to be done."
Chris Cox is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.