by Jim Maggiore
On December 22nd Jacob deGrom took out a full-page ad in the printed edition of the New York Post to thank Met fans and those who helped him become a star along the way. His message read as follows:
To the City of New York, the New York Mets Organization, and Mets Fans Everywhere
I can still remember the exact moment I stood on the Citi Field mound for the first time after getting called up in 2014. It was a moment filled with so many wonderful emotions that will forever be etched in my mind.
My family and I are forever grateful to the Mets for an incredible last 12 years and, most importantly, for believing in me. For giving me the opportunity to play the game I love at the highest level for all these years. There are so many people that I want to thank and recognize:
Steve Cohen, Billy Eppler, the entire front office, managers, players, coaches, both past and present, bullpen catchers, trainers, clubhouse personnel, security staff, family room workers, kitchen staff, PR staff, photographers, stadium personnel, New York City police officers, TV personalities, and journalists. Each and every one of you played such a vital role in our lives in New York. Beyond a working relationship, many of you became true, lifelong friends to Stacey and me.
To the New York Mets fans—your passion, devotion, and unwavering support for me from the very beginning, have been incredible. It is humbling and appreciated beyond words. Thank you for your dedication and for how kindly you embraced me and my family. It has been a true honor to wear a Mets uniform all these years. The New York Mets, the fans, and the city will always hold a special place in our hearts.
— Jacob deGrom and Family
Many of us need not be reminded that deGrom pitched for the Binghamton Mets in 2013, but most of us have forgotten that his professional career was almost over before it even started as he had Tommy John surgery in October 2010. He didn’t make it back to the mound until 2012, but when he did his velocity had increased by 5-10 mph! 2012 saw him pitching in Low Class-A ball at Columbia, South Carolina, where his pitching coach was Frank Viola, who was known for having one of the best changeups in the game when he starred for the Twins and Mets. It was at Columbia that deGrom started to think like a professional pitcher. It’s not hard to imagine he and Viola having countless discussions about the effectiveness of a quality changeup.
One of the truisms of pitching is “You need to command your fastball enough to get to 0-2 on a hitter and, on those occasions when you fall behind a hitter, 2-0, you need another pitch to throw for a strike to get back in the count.” DeGrom was blessed, as his “other pitch” could be either his changeup or slider! Viola wound up becoming one of deGrom’s biggest supporters in the organization, admiring deGrom’s personal makeup and salivating over his mound presence.
Jake deGrom at Citi Field on 8/7/2022
Disappointment filled deGrom’s mind when he learned at the end of spring training that he would start the 2013 season at Class-A ball. But he showed enough in two starts to earn a promotion to Binghamton in the middle of April. As a Binghamton Met he pitched 60 innings, gave up 69 hits, struck out 44 batters and walked almost half as many hitters as he struck out—20! His E.R.A. was 4.80 and his record was 2-5, giving no hint of stardom on the major league mound.
In June, when he was told of a promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas, he told his housemates in Port Dickinson that he didn’t need to pack, as he was only going to Vegas for a spot start. After throwing well in his first start for Vegas, however, the Mets decided to keep him at Triple-A. He tired at the end of the year, so his final Las Vegas statistics proved to be as pedestrian as his Binghamton numbers. He finished with a 4-2 record and a 4.52 E.R.A. So surprised was he that he remained at Vegas that he had to have his dad come up from Florida to get his car from Port Dickinson and drive it back to Florida. When his dad tried to start the car, it wouldn’t start—deGrom’s housemates had not even bothered to start it for him, as they too were expecting him to return any day from Vegas.
During that 2013 season deGrom was still recovering from Tommy John surgery and he was still fine-tuning his command, as during his collegiate days at Stetson he spent most of his time as a shortstop. He didn’t start pitching in Stetson’s rotation until his junior season, after which the Mets took him in the 9th round of the 2010 draft and signed him to a $95,000 bonus because they liked his raw potential—his throwing motion was fluid and he had remarkably good control for someone so new to pitching. (On a side note, deGrom’s pitching coach at Stetson was Chris Roberts, a first-round selection of the Mets in 1992 and a stalwart on Binghamton’s Eastern League Championship team of 1994.)
As has been well-documented in the ensuing years, deGrom made his ML debut on May 25, 2014, just a few days more than a month short of his 26th birthday, throwing one-run baseball against the Yankees for seven innings, allowing only four hits.
He never looked back.
Now, even though Steve Cohen has gone on an unprecedented spending spree on behalf of Mets fans, there are some who wonder why deGrom is no longer a Met. Those are the fans who wanted deGrom to spend his entire year with the Mets, much the way Ed Kranepool and David Wright did before him. Some even envisioned a deGrom statue going up a decade or so from now, right next to the Seaver statue that welcomes fans to Citi Field.
DeGrom has been silent about his real reasons leaving New York, remarking on how excited he is to join the Texas Rangers, and how committed he feels his new organization is committed to winning a World Series sometime during the next five years. Cynics scoff at deGrom’s remarks—after all, with Cohen spending approximately $450 million dollars on his payroll (at this writing—including tax penalties), what organization can be more committed to winning than the Mets?
What else could deGrom say? If he explained that he is a country kid at heart, that he is still that kid who grew up in Deleon Springs, Florida, who enjoyed hunting and fishing and riding a four-wheeler, it would come off as a diss on city life. One of the things that deGrom looks forward to during every offseason is to return to Florida and go to the local community park with his wife and young kids, to blend in the community like an average Joe. Whether he’s been a high school star at Calvary Christian Brothers Academy in Florida (class of ‘90), a light-hitting shortstop for neighboring Stetson University, or a big-league pitcher for the Mets, deGrom has always treasured his privacy and his unassuming approach to everyday living.
Perhaps the key to deGrom’s thinking can be found in a story related by then New York Mets beat writer Justin Toscano in northjersey.com on April 11, 2020. Toscano related that during deGrom’s rookie season his regular mode of transportation to Citi Field was taking public transportation. He was wearing a hoodie on this particular day, hiding his face as he usually did, sitting on a bench in a subway train headed to Citi Field.
Soon, a young boy walked up to him.
“Hey, excuse me sir,” the kid said. “Are you Jacob deGrom?”
“Listen,” deGrom replied. “If I say I am, can you not tell anyone?”
“Yeah, sure.” The kid said.
“I am,” deGrom said.
The kid went crazy.
“Oh my God! Jacob deGrom!”
According to Toscano, deGrom never rode the subway again.
This December, eight years after ending his subway gig, deGrom ended his Mets gig. Baseball may be a religion in the big city, but deGrom wants no part of sainthood. At heart, he’s just an ordinary Jake—except that he deserves a standing ovation when he returns to Citi Field as a member of the Rangers in 2023.
Thanks for the memories Jake, and good luck to you, except for when you pitch against the Mets!