In July I published part one of the All Around All Star project (https://www.birdsontheblack.com/post/all-around-all-star). Since then I have been trying to find a way to show new perspectives that shed light on the players we see and give a glimpse behind the curtain as to who these men are off the field, as well as the families who stand with them. On Wednesday, November 27 I was lucky enough to be able to chat with Andrea DeJong via phone. Andrea is the mother of St. Louis shortstop Paul DeJong. She was a gem to speak to and I can't thank her enough for her time during the week of Thanksgiving, as well as for such an open and honest conversation. Through this interview I hope readers can take away new viewpoints and see more of the humanity inside the players and the families that have helped get them to the biggest stage in baseball.
(This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.)
Rachael Ren: Who we become is directly impacted by how we are raised and by our parents. How do you believe you may have impacted Paul as his mother?
Andrea DeJong: I believe that the mother's bond with her son is the first connection in the child's life. I was a firstborn and Paul was my first born and so we had a natural connection in terms of our approach to life. I would be the person to take charge in a situation that needed a leader and I think that Paul does the same, you know, being fearless. And, again, for me, the behaviors that I try to demonstrate for all of my kids, but particularly for Paul, is that when you are the leader you have to take responsibility, take risks, and support and protect the people around you. I think that I have modeled that through my life, through family or through work. I have a solid work ethic, and that was clear to Paul throughout his life.
RR: Whenever I first sent my part one of this piece to you, you had said that there's far more to the young men in major league baseball than the world sees. So as a whole in baseball, what do you wish the world saw more of from the players in general and specifically from Paul?
AD: I wish that the world recognized that baseball is central to his life, but that it's not the only thing in his life. Part of his life comes with commitment to the organization and always representing, but then there are other times when in the off season he wants to go off and do things by himself. Sometimes there's still pressure for people wanting him to do something that he doesn't want to do or be somewhere he doesn't want to be. For Paul to go off and be in the woods and hunt and fish, that's what he needs to do to recharge in the off seasons. And sometimes it's hard to walk away from that. So I wish that people would recognize that every person needs some quiet time to recharge.
RR: You make some excellent points. Chelsea and I just talked about it in our podcast, how people see these guys out and about in the off season and they think that it's still baseball, that everything's still on, but they're just regular people out here trying to recharge and relax and breathe for a minute.
AD: And the same goes for the family. It’s not all just strangers, it's just a lot of pressure on them. So I just want to put a footnote at that. I'm not trying to say anything negative about the fans because they're passionate and excited about it and that's all wonderful. But sometimes the pressure comes from family members, myself included. When I have a chance in the off season to spend time with Paul I want to take full advantage of it. So I have to remind myself that just because it's the off season doesn't mean he wants to spend every day with his mother and that's okay too.
RR: How has baseball impacted your family? Obviously it's a part of it, but how big of a part is it and how has it changed you guys?
AD: Baseball is a huge part of our life and it has been from the very start. I remember in elementary school when Paul brought home the flyer to go to baseball tryouts. We got a flyer not really knowing anything about the different organizations. We always had been baseball fans. When we took him there it was perhaps luck or chance that we went to one organization versus another, because the next week we got the flyer for the organization down the street. We had already committed to the first organization by that point, and so from there we were hooked. His very first season was a fun one. It was a great chance for us to see him start to exercise his fierceness. Even though he was probably five years old at the time, it was just a fun thing to watch develop. From there, because we lived in Florida, he played two seasons a year. Then when he was eight he started to also play on a travel team. He was double, triple booked. We had baseball just about every day of the week. I think we did have one day off if I recall, but it was probably a Monday. It's not like we could spend a lot of family time doing something on a Monday. So it was all baseball all the time. Then his younger brother started playing baseball and his sister started playing softball. And so we’ve just always been at a field somewhere. As it went into college for Paul, I spent time every weekend during the season traveling to the games. I probably only missed a handful of games and those would have been the games in the middle of the week, but that became part of our schedule and logistics, planning around that. When he was drafted and went into the minors, it was a shift because we could not travel to every city and go to every game. Thankfully they have the apps that allow you to watch video of the game, so we certainly subscribed to that. And then when he made it to the majors the MLB At Bat app became a lifeline. I would say that I watched probably all but maybe 10 games or so this season. Sometimes I would watch the replay of the game. I might peek at the stats and say, “Oh, something great happened in the fourth inning. I think I'm gonna fast forward and see what happened.” I don't want to claim that I watched every inning of every game because that would be a lie, but baseball continues to be a big focus in my life.
RR: Has baseball ever stopped being fun or magical for you? You mentioned the first season was fun, but has it ever lost any of that original magic or is it still there for you guys?
AD: I think it's still there, but it's different. The sense of community, the sense of camaraderie with the other players’ and their families is definitely present. In college because they all traveled together. Then when you get to the minors and the majors your opportunities to spend time with the other families is limited, and so it's different in that way. I have made some very dear friends among the moms of some of the other Cardinals players. We all are watching games together sometimes versus sometimes in individual homes, but we text each other, you know, nice hit or nice play or something like that. We stay connected through that. And that's a big difference in how I enjoy the game, it's just different friends, but still the same passion and passion for the game.
RR: Would it be correct to say that the group of moms that you're friends with, they're kind of some of the only people who might understand some of the things that you and your family are going through?
AD: Absolutely. Because baseball is a game of failure, we console each other about how our sons are handling the pressure, how the fans are reacting, etc. There are definitely times when I turn off social media because you just can't take anymore naysayers about your child, you know? Then we turn to each other to help ourselves through that, remind each other that, “okay, he may have an 0-4 day, but maybe the next game he's going to hit a home run and a couple of other hits.” And that's just how baseball goes. So for the moms, it's no different. We still feel the pain of our kids when they're struggling and we still scream and jump for joy when they do well whether we are in our houses or in the stands… or as I have been known to do, walking around Epcot, listening to the game with my earbuds in. Sometimes that’s what I have to do to enjoy the game that I love.
RR: Whenever the Big Mac Land home run happened, I swear I saw an article that said that Paul had called you and you had helped him come up with kind of the donation plan for that. Is that something that actually happened?
AD: It is, yes! Paul and I talk often about how he can give back to the community, what options are available to him. Often the conversation is, “when am I going to do that?” The days off don't always align with events that are happening. And sometimes on a day off, he needs to sleep. He needs to rest. It's a tricky, tricky balance during the season and so it was a conversation that we had saying, “what can we do?” His cousins were all very excited about the broken letter M from the Big Mac Land sign. There were a lot of group texts going around about saying yeah, we're gonna drag the M around on the ice and do other crazy things. It sort of just evolved into a nice way to give back to the community. We started thinking about what would be a good number for a donation. The number we landed on coincided with what number of home runs it was (22) and then dividing up between Cardinals Care and the Ronald McDonald house, because those are both really important organizations in the city. It was a way for him to give back, knowing that he didn't necessarily have time to be at an event or sort of a commitment during the season.
RR: Where do you think your life and your family's life and Paul's life would be without this game of baseball, without this crazy journey that you guys have taken?
AD: Well, that's a tough one, Rachael. I think throughout this conversation I've focused a lot on Paul and I didn't focus so much on my other kids who are also a big part of my life. In fact the dog barking we heard a little while ago was because my daughter was arriving home for the holiday weekend. She goes to school nearby, so it's not a huge commute for her, but she's home. And my other son came home late last night from Florida State. I think my life would be maybe more balanced in terms of the time that I could spend with each child. My children each have different gifts, some athletic, some artistic, and some musical. They're just across the spectrum on things and very talented. So I would probably be able to spend time with my other kids without feeling like I'm missing something. I think it would be okay actually. I have a close family. My family is fun and a little bit crazy, but I think that that we would be okay. I hope that life without baseball doesn't happen. Baseball has been a part of my life forever. I can't imagine that not being a part of my life. But if for some reason I can’t watch Paul play anymore, I have some great friends and I'll watch their sons play.
RR: That's a perfect answer. My original goal was just to get a better understanding as to your perspective of Paul and about this life that you lead. Obviously players, they do interviews with media all the time, but that tends to be more of, “well, why did you swing at that pitch? Why did you do this? Why did you do that?” Or if it's fan asked questions they tend to hover around other subjects like, “what's your favorite color, what's your favorite food?” And this isn't a criticism of those questions and those asking, but I want to eventually start getting into what the players want the world to know? What do they want to say? And kind of help be that voice. Share new perspectives that we often don’t think of. I think that what you've given me is a great start.
AD: The only thing I think I would want to add, I think you hinted at it maybe in your last question, is that although Paul is experiencing great success, he still is very connected to his family and we are not celebrities. We all continue to go to work. We all continue to go to school. We keep going with what we're in. We maintain our own identities. It's fun to go to the game and sit in the family section, but at the end of the day I'm still my own person. We try not to get too wrapped up in his celebrity status, although it is hard to do sometimes, for me trying to balance out that pride of a mother some. (For me) it’s like yeah, you're still my little boy. I changed your diapers and patted your back when you were crying because you fell and skinned your knee or something like that, you know. I have known him forever so it’s like, don’t big league me, if that makes sense. *laughs*
And so concludes part 2 of All Around All Star. I want to thank Andrea DeJong once again for her time and willingness to be part of this. Earlier in the interview we mention Cardinals Care and Ronald McDonald House St. Louis. You can donate to these two amazing causes here:
Ronald McDonald House STL: