The St. Louis Cardinals have announced that their injured shortstop is on his way back and I was lucky enough to interview his father (after having interviewed his mother) for Father’s Day.
The St. Louis Cardinals announced yesterday that Paul DeJong was hitting off a tee after suffering a fractured left hand. This is really, really good news as the Cardinals desperately need a spark to return.
As today is Father’s Day, let me start by wishing all the fathers out there a fantastic day– and one hopefully not soured by a St. Louis Cardinals loss tonight. That said, on this day celebrating fathers, let us remember that sports are not life and death.
Back in May, on Mother’s Day, I was blessed to have had the opportunity to interview DeJong’s mother. If you missed that interview, you can catch it in the link below.
Today, Father’s Day, I am again blessed by the DeJong family and honored to be able to have interviewed Keith DeJong– Paul’s father. Keith is a faithful father to Paul and two other children and has even served as their coach. As things stand today, Keith is a devout St. Louis Cardinals fan too!
As I progress through this interview- like I did with the Mother’s Day interview- I will interject stories of my own experience with my father. Also, the text in italics below represents Keith’s responses.
Question one: When did you know that Paul showed promise to be a ball player? Was there a particular moment?
When Paul started school, he came home one day with 2 sports flyers, one for soccer and one for baseball. I knew nothing about soccer, so I really hoped he would choose baseball – and gladly he did. That is the moment I knew he would be great. But seriously, at an early age he was extremely focused and competitive in everything he did, he wanted to be the best. I was glad to provide him the opportunity to excel. So, I don’t think there was any one moment, it was a process and every year he got better.
I played baseball until I was about 15. I’m not sure I showed any promise of the like of Paul but I certainly did learn to be competitive and focused. My father worked hard to teach me to be the best at whatever I attempted and believed in me regardless of my choices. I played the guitar, the piano, soccer, and baseball through the years and my father was always there supporting me.
Question two: Can you tell us how it felt to coach your son? Were there moments/stories of when this relationship affected the coaching in the positive and/or negative?
The times I spent coaching Paul and my other two children will always be some of the fondest memories of my life. It was a way I could be with my children in a fun and competitive way. I believe sports and competition are great skills to have in life and that it translates to success in many areas people will encounter throughout their lives. I was glad to be a part of that for Paul and hope I helped him in a positive way.
My father was my baseball coach for many years and I will never forget these times. In these times, my father showed me how to be fair and equitable to everyone as he never once showed favoritism to me. There are also fond memories that I hold of moments when I found the father/coach relationship to be strained but even these make me a better father to my children today.
Question three: Can you tell us how it felt when Paul made his debut and when he got his first hit?
I was there with my wife in Denver for his debut. I believe the story is well-known that Paul had weather issues with his flight getting out of Memphis and it was unclear if he was even going to make it to Denver. We were on a flight from Milwaukee to Denver so we did not know for sure if he had left Memphis. When we landed in Denver we got a text from Paul that he was in Detroit and scheduled to arrive by the 4th inning of the game.
So, at that point I did not expect he would play, and I would just enjoy the game and see Paul after. Well he got there and came into the dugout, around the 6th inning, we saw him from the stands shaking hands with Matheny and the other coaches. It was an amazing feeling just that he was there in the dugout as a major league player. I was thinking it was great for Paul to take it all in and get settled, then probably play the next day in St. Louis.
As the game went on it seemed maybe there was a chance Paul would get in as pinch hitter, then in the 8th we saw Paul with a helmet and bat ready to go on deck. I started to feel a little nervous then. He was on deck with 2 outs, but the batter got out, so it looked like Paul would lead off the 9th. Long bottom of 8th with pitching changes and a few runs, Paul had to wait nearly a half hour to get back out there. I really did not watch or pay attention to that half inning, anticipating Paul’s AB. Finally, the 3rd out and Paul comes out on deck.
The Cards were down 5 runs I believe, so I felt it was a good place to be for Paul, no pressure – just go up there and find a good pitch to swing at. Even though I was nervous, I felt comfortable for him, he had always been even-keeled no matter what the situation, so I expected he was thinking the same as me.
First pitch took a slider away, then I knew he wasn’t anxious and he was looking for his pitch. 2nd pitch got a cutter with plenty of plate. Paul had the timing and barreled it. I had pure joy for Paul that he had a good swing, regardless of the outcome. I always coached Paul that to be a good baseball player you must focus on the execution not the outcome. If you execute well, great outcomes will happen. That is exactly what I saw that day.
Wow. What a touching memory of deeply-held belief in his son. This takes me back to my father’s belief in me when I quit baseball to follow my heart’s passion of the theatre. My father may have liked that I stayed in sports, but he supported me without end even in light of a decision that he had no connection. My world was changing and my father’s devotion would not cease.
Question four: What advice do you remember giving Paul while he was growing up? What advice do you give him today?
Be humble, appreciate what you have, and give back to the community by helping those in need.
My father also instilled me in the need to be and remain humble. Additionally, my father was a member of the Lions Club as I was very young and then later a member of the Rotary Club when I was older. These things taught me an attitude of giving and “service above self” (the Rotary motto).
Question five: Are there things that you worry about while Paul and the St. Louis Cardinals are playing?
No, not really. I think Paul is going to go day to day and not worry about the ups and downs.
My father was the one who moved me to New York when I moved. As a father now, I can only imagine what was going through his mind as he flew away leaving me in the Big Apple. I admire Keith for his lack of fear.
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Question six: How scary has it been with Paul’s recent injury? What were your thoughts when he was hit on the hand?
I wasn’t too worried or scared. Injuries are part of sports and I just hoped it wouldn’t be too serious or long to recover. I know how much he loves to play baseball and that he might start to get frustrated when he can’t be in there every day playing.
Question seven: Do you have any thoughts you can share about how you feel as a father to an active player?
I would be proud of him in anything he chose to do and feel he would have been relatively successful in whatever that was. He did have some luck and overcame many obstacles, but he took advantage of every opportunity given to him. So, I guess I feel he is there because of his work ethic, perseverance and drive to be the best.
My father recently supported me and believed in me by paying the exorbitant fee for my administration certification exam. He believed that I would pass it on my first attempt. I did and walking into the exam knowing that my father was behind me and supporting me made me ready for the exam. I can only imagine that Paul feels the same.
Question eight: Lastly, any advice you would like to give to fathers raising kids in sports?
The advice I could give to mothers and fathers is keep everything in perspective for that moment. Don’t look to the future, just try to be successful within the level your kids are playing. If your child wants to continue to advance each year, let them decide. As I always taught Paul, sports should be a process and a journey, not a destination.
My father let me decide to leave baseball and by doing so emboldened me for life. Allowing our children to make their own decisions (within reason) is the best gift we can give them.
Thank you for the interview, Mr. DeJong. Thank you for the stories and the answers and for reminding me of the great things my own father did for me. I can only hope that I am as great a father to my children as my own father was to me.
Thank you to all the fathers out there for being the best you can be. As children, we can wish for much, but your presence and support is the ultimate celebration of fatherhood. Oh, and go St. Louis Cardinals!