Thursday, April 19, 2012
Wilson's DeJong breaks the mold
By Blair Angulo
Chase DeJong enjoys a challenge, which explains why he left a small private school for a large public school.
LONG BEACH -- Chase DeJong wanted to challenge himself.
In a time when transfers from public to private schools are common, the senior pitcher decided to go the other way, leaving the comforts of Valley Christian in Cerritos for Long Beach Wilson at the end of ninth grade. He could stay and dominate at Valley Christian, where he knew the first and last names of about 600 students, but that would have been easy. No, like any great competitor, DeJong wanted to challenge himself.
It was difficult to leave because he had attended Valley Christian since preschool. His two older brothers had gone there as well. It was home for him, all he ever knew.
"I knew if I wanted to experience a big public school and play against top-level competition, I needed to test myself," says DeJong, the 12th-ranked player in the state according to ESPN.
DeJong adjusted well to the move and, a year later, burst onto the scene with a 10-2 record and 1.00 ERA as a junior. In 50 innings pitched this season the 6-foot-5 right-hander has given up nine earned runs and struck out 71 batters.
"His biggest transition was getting used to the large number of personality types and religious beliefs," says Bruins head coach Andy Hall, whose team is 14-6 with all six losses coming by one run. "He's lived a sheltered life. Being exposed to this has helped him mature and grow."
DeJong throws an unmistakeable low-90s fastball and mixes in what Hall describes as a "vicious" curveball. He received his first recruiting letter as an eighth grader and, eventually, was pursued by nearly every major college program before settling on local USC. DeJong broke the news to Trojans head coach Frank Cruz with a late-night phone call last August.
"It was 11:45 at night," DeJong says. "I woke him up."
Not that Cruz complained or anything.
DeJong has remained humble through the added attention and higher profile. Hall says he receives baseball cards of DeJong from autograph seekers in his school mailbox. The 18-year-old signs them and sends them back.
"The attention he's gotten from the college and pro scouts, he's handled it very, very well," Hall says. "It's got to be a lot of pressure and stress to stand on the mound and see 25 radar guns pointing at you. He's been unfazed by that."
DeJong doesn't know what June's MLB Draft has in store, but he has consulted with a number of people including older cousin Jordan DeJong, who played briefly with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2007, and former Wilson standout and top Minnesota Twins prospect Aaron Hicks. At the Texas Rangers' opener this year DeJong picked the brain of club president Nolan Ryan, whose six-and-a-half-foot cardboard cutout stands in DeJong's room.
"Until the day of the draft, all the talk doesn't mean anything," DeJong says. "What I do know is that I have the full ride to USC. If I get a better offer my family and I are definitely going consider all the options."
For now he's concentrating on the task at hand. Opposing players become more focused when DeJong is on the mound, intent on registering a hit against a highly touted pitching prospect. It's an opportunity for others to make names for themselves against a bigger name. Wilson lost a game earlier this season and DeJong wasn't even the pitcher of record, but that didn't prevent the opposing team from sprinting out of its dugout and dog piling on the field. It was only the third game of the year.
"Sometimes it's hard because I know everybody gets geared up to face me," DeJong says. "But when it comes down to it, it's an honor. It means people respect you and they know you're good. It definitely makes me more accountable for what I'm doing out there. I'm under a microscope, but it's just something that I'm going to have to live with."
After all, it's why Chase DeJong wanted to challenge himself.
Blair Angulo covers preps for ESPN Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.