Jacob deGrom’s return from injury begins with trip to Florida



DeLEON SPRINGS, Fla .– In a city without traffic lights, where Spanish moss hangs over split rail fences and the ruins of the sugar mill rest along the shore of Lake Spring Garden, Tony deGrom, a fitter of cables retired, awaits the return of his son, Jacob, each fall.

Tony and his wife, Tammy, moved to the rural area decades ago because they wanted to get away from Daytona Beach inland with family and friends. By the time Jacob was 2, Tony had put a bullet in his son’s hands and was watching his neophyte grow up.

Jacob is now 33 and has twice won the Cy Young Award for the Mets. But the son still drives his van on a dirt road to his childhood home to throw it away with his father.

It is an autumn rite for routine men.

“The highlight of my days,” said Tony, 66.

Life is slower here for the pitcher who throws 102 miles an hour.

The town was named after Juan Ponce de León, the 16th-century Spanish explorer who came to Florida in search of healing waters, and tours of the Fountain of Youth are organized at a local park, where panels welcome visitors to “the real Florida”. DeGrom, looking for balance after a season that began with a fastball shootout but was cut short in July due to a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, plans to rejuvenate amid orange groves and cattle ranches.

“For me he hasn’t changed at all,” Tony said of Jacob. “The same goofball he’s always been.”

Jacob deGrom was always outside as a child, riding and frolicking. One day, he drove his four-wheeler down the trail at Spring Garden Ranch, a 160-acre standard horse resort that bills itself as “where winners come in the winter.”

“I never got caught, but they scared me away,” deGrom said.

He resisted all the reins. At Calvary Christian Academy he wore short hair and always played well against rival Lighthouse Christian. As a senior on the basketball team he was the county’s top scorer, and Lighthouse Christian coach Robert Maltoni tried a triangle and two or box and one to contain deGrom, a qualified wing. who finished with either hand on dunks. To accommodate the season’s largest crowd of 1,000, Lighthouse Christian rented the nearby Stetson University gymnasium. DeGrom scored 39 points in a 69-66 loss.

“He made me pull my hair out,” Maltoni said.

On the baseball fields, deGrom helped American Legion Post 6 as a shrewd outfield player and returned that fall to Stetson, 10 miles on Hwy 17, starting at third base before moving on to the shortstop and reluctantly assume the duties of relief pitcher. His first vehicle was a 1997 Dodge Ram with a single cabin, and his teammates remembered his trucks – CB radio antenna in the back and mud all over the place – rumbling as he drove to and from campus. His parents never missed a game at home or away. In his spare time, he stoked bonfires with friends before being drafted in the ninth round by the Mets after his junior year.

Four months after the start of his professional career, he had to undergo Tommy John surgery. When he showed up to the Mets complex for rehab, Randy Niemann, one of the coaches there, took note of his calm demeanor, registered his fastball at around 92 mph and saw an unusual command. .

“He went so well in his delivery that I thought, this guy has a real chance,” said Niemann.

The lessons have come, on and off the pitch. In 2013, he broke the ring finger of his gloved hand while helping a neighbor castrate a calf. While his arm was in a cast, he initiated gloveless lifters and tinkered with his mechanics to regain his old form.

DeGrom quickly learned what it was like to be a major leaguer. He arrived in New York City in 2014 with a cocker spaniel headdress, the narrowed eyes of a comic book villain, and the 6ft 4in figure of Sidd Finch, the fictional flamethrower. That summer, Derek Jeter was preparing to leave Broadway as deGrom learned about the subway. DeGrom was the National League Rookie of the Year; married Stacey, a local girl he had met at a rodeo, in a rustic barn during the off-season; launched in the World Series the following fall; and threw a hit in 2016, the only hit gave way to a pitcher. He passed 200 innings in one season for the first time in 2017 and won his first Cy Young Award in 2018 with a 1.70 ERA

Two days before signing a $ 137.5million extension, he had participated in a spring training game against Atlanta at Disney World, and his father later picked him up before driving him. in Sarasota, Florida for final negotiations.

Later in the week, they mingled at the Ritz-Carlton Diplomatic Room in Arlington, Va., Where the Mets stayed for their opener against the Nationals. Tony estimated he made $ 163 a week when he started with Bell South at 23. Jacob never saw his father in the morning because Tony had to be at work by 7 a.m. In September, as his son neared his professional peak, Tony retired. one month under 41 at work.

“I think I went something like 17 years without missing a day before I got the flu a year and missed a few days,” he said.

Even as stardom fully arrived, Jacob behaved like a laid back cowboy, slipping in and out of Citi Field wearing a Resistol trucker hat and Rainbow sandals. In home games, the Mets spotted Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” when he took the mound. His jersey was No. 48 and he wore a pair of brown leather boots with No. 4 tucked into the back of a left boot and No. 8 in the right.

He won his second Cy Young in 2019, and hints of star status have emerged. Not to be lost among the boxes of smokeless tobacco in his locker were two cards on a shelf, both from the Lieutenants Benevolent Association of the New York Police Department. In the lower right corner of each card, a yellow label is where the recipient’s name is typed in black. On the one hand, he was Jacob deGrom. On the other, he was recognized by his rank in the game: Cy Young.

Upon his return to Florida, a tradition unaffected by his fame, deGrom slashed speeds in Volusia County, ordered the best-selling Hillbilly sandwich with pulled pork from the local haunt, and fished in honey holes. Her son, Jaxon, is 5 years old; his daughter, Aniston, is 3 years old. When he doesn’t understand a reference to popular culture, he says, “Two kids, too busy,” and real estate also takes up some of his time. He bought what he called “a large area” in his hometown and talked about building a “forever house” on what was once an orange grove bordered by a few lakes and dotted with a pond.

“His comfort is in the middle of the woods with a handful of select people around him,” said Aaron Crittenden, who played with deGrom at Stetson. “He can be perfectly happy to live his days doing just that. “

Uncertainty will accompany him home this time. When he wasn’t on the mound this season, he was on a magnetic resonance imaging machine looking for answers to a range of injuries ranging from pain to inflammation. Although Mets president Sandy Alderson insisted in September that deGrom’s ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow was “perfectly intact,” the pitcher was officially shut down for the season this week. Relegated to kissing balls most of the time, he would sometimes throw with his left hand to keep his mind occupied.

“I always test my arm to see how it feels,” he said. “It’s just something I do – always moving it.”

His powerful right arm carries less mileage than most pitchers his age due to his multisport upbringing and late introduction to pitching, but the consistent 100mph pitch under batting hands has taken its toll this season. . His father, who has attended a few of his first in-person starts this season, reflected on the importance of rest. He thinks too much specialization is bad for the game.

“I loved seeing Jacob just being a kid, having fun,” he said. “Today I talk to dads and their 9 or 10 year old kids play baseball every day of the year. It’s just too much. Go on. Give them a break.

Each year, at the end of the season, Jacob takes a full two weeks off and stays off the mound until the following February 1, when he prepares for spring training. Between the shutdown and the official restart, Tony grabs his glove and Jacob delivers the balls. They start close to each other, but as the winter weeks pass the father and son take a step back as the son gradually expands his schedule. In January, Jacob throws the ball 180 feet. In return, Tony, battling his own aches and pains, throws him as far as he can before letting the ball bounce back at his boy a few times.

“You have to be tough to get old,” he said.


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