By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Chase De Jong has heard all about West Virginia. It will now be home for the next two months.
“I have some West Virginia roots,” De Jong said. “My grandfather was born and raised in Logan County in a town called Man so that is my southern roots.”
De Jong, a 6-foot-4, 185-pound right-handed pitcher from Long Beach, Calif., will serve as the opening day starter tonight when the Bluefield Blue Jays open the Appalachian League season by hosting the Greeneville Astros.
“It is just a honor to be able to get out of the GCL, out of spring training and get up here, and then to be given the opening day start, that is just a cherry on top,” he said. “I am very excited for it, the fans here are great and I love to see it.”
The 19-year-old De Jong arrived in Bluefield on Sunday night after spending last year in the Gulf Coast League and working the last several months in extended spring training in Dunedin, Fla.
Being in Bluefield is fine with him.
“You can definitely see it is a small town,” De Jong said. “I love that, my dad is from a small town in Iowa of 195 people, I love small town living, being here, I know the people here are great and it is a great opportunity for me, I can’t wait for Thursday night.”
A second round draft choice by Toronto last June, De Jong worked in six games in the Gulf Coast League, posting a 1.50 ERA, while striking out 15 and walking just one in 12 innings on the mound.
“Last year the whole point I wanted to get out of being down there was to get used to the five-day rotation, playing baseball every day, throwing every day,” said De Jong, who was the sixth of six Toronto picks in the first 81 selections in the draft. “I adapted rather quickly to it, I was happy with myself that I was able to adapt that well.”
De Jong has Major League genes. His cousin, Jordan De Jong, spent seven seasons in the Blue Jays’ organization, working in six games with Toronto in 2008. He was excited to get a chance to follow in his footsteps with the Blue Jays, having been drafted by Andrew Tinnish, who was then Toronto’s director of amateur scouting.
“I am very thankful to him for taking a chance on me,” said De Jong, who had a scholarship offer to the University of South Carolina. “I am just trying to make the most of every opportunity I have been given.”
De Jong will know little about the Astros as he takes the Bowen Field mound tonight, but he will be ready to go.
“I have a good curveball, but what I am is a strike-thrower with three pitches and I keep the hitters guessing, that is me..,” he said. “You have got to make them hit the fastball, keep them honest, make them hit it and if they start to then I have got two other pitches in my arsenal that you have to deal with too...
“The mound is still 60 feet, 6 inches away, it is the same thing, just put a hitter up there.”
Toronto likes their minor league hurlers to ‘piggy-back’ with other starters, and De Jong will be followed on the mound tonight by Canadian hurler Shane Dawson. That duo will switch roles in their next scheduled appearance, with Dawson getting the start.
De Jong likes the look of the roster for an organization that is seeking its first Appalachian League championship since 2001.
“I saw a roster the other day when we were down in Florida and I am pretty excited,” De Jong said. “We have got a lot of prospects at this level, we have a lot of talented individuals here and if we mesh together the right way, it is going to be a pretty dangerous team.”
One issue that shouldn’t be a problem for De Jong is being so far from home. He spent the summer of 2011 in North Carolina, Florida and even Colombia as a member of the gold-medal winning Team USA 18U baseball team.
He figures that experience will be similar to what will await as a professional baseball player.
“I was on my own, I was gone for about a month, I was in Cartagena, Columbia, playing in the Pan American Games,” De Jong said. “We won the gold medal so that was kind of fun because I had to be on my own living in a hotel room with a roommate.
“Pro ball, it is cliché’, but it is a grind, it is every day, you get to the big leagues and it is 162 games plus the playoffs, that is a lot of time away from home.”
De Jong’s grandfather traveled extensively as part of the Air Force, but spent much of his early years in West Virginia. His grandson is excited to call the Mountain State home for the next two-plus months.
“He moved all over and I think by the time my mom was like 7, they landed in southern California in Paramount,” De Jong said. “That is where she was raised, but I have always heard about West Virginia and I got close to the uncles that I met and they were all telling me about West Virginia.
“I am really happy I get to be here and see it.”
—Contact Brian Woodson a firstname.lastname@example.org