Like almost every ballplayer at a young age, Paul DeJong’s dreams were to play in the Major Leagues and become an All-Star.
The first dream came true in 2017, when he hit a pinch-hit home run in his first Major League at-bat.
The second dream will come true Tuesday night when DeJong plays in his first MLB All-Star Game as the Cardinals’ lone representative.
“It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work,” DeJong said. “It’s a great opportunity for me. I’m thankful for the opportunity to play for this organization every day and the work they put in with me and the faith they have [in] me. I’m super excited to be able to represent this organization. There’s such a long list of great players and All-Stars for this team. I’m just happy to join that list.”
DeJong is the first Cardinals All-Star shortstop since Aledmys Diaz in 2016, and he will join the Cubs’ Javier Baez and the Rockies’ Trevor Story as the National League shortstops. DeJong is the lone Cardinals representative, which hasn’t happened since 2007, when Albert Pujols was a reserve at first base.
The Cardinals drafted DeJong in the fourth round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of Illinois State. DeJong became the first MLB All-Star from Illinois State since 1974, when pitcher Buzz Capra was selected with a 2.28 ERA in a 16-8 season with the Braves.
DeJong’s journey to becoming an All-Star began with a rapid rise through the Cardinals’ farm system as a Top 30 prospect. He made the switch to shortstop before the 2017 season and was called up for the first time on May 28, when he hit that pinch-hit home run in Colorado.
He was sent back to Memphis once more in 2017, for three days in June. Since then – aside from a month-long stint on the injured list last year with a fractured hand -- the 25-year-old has been a steady player and shortstop in St. Louis.
This year, DeJong is hitting .258 with 13 home runs and 36 RBIs. His offensive production, while inconsistent at times, has been solid for the Cardinals, but it’s his defense that he believes put him over the top for a selection to the All-Star Game.
He’s started 86 of 88 games, all at shortstop, and he only has three errors in 744 innings this year. DeJong’s well-roundedness and reliability at a premium position resulted in the All-Star nod, not inflated numbers or flair in the infield.
“It’s about being a complete player,” DeJong said. “And the people who wonder why I’m even at the All-Star game, I hope they see that I do have a wholeness to my game and I truly work at every facet of the game.”
The All-Star Game is an opportunity for DeJong to step onto the national stage and to show baseball fans his game.
“Just try to get my name out there and show the world who I am on and off the field,” DeJong said. “It’s great to be recognized in a group of this much talent and success, the types of players on this team.”
Part of DeJong’s improvement this year has come from experience. Now in his third year, he’s more comfortable defensively at shortstop. It’s caught the eyes of his teammates, who all erupted in cheers when they were told that DeJong was an All-Star.
“To be a great defensive shortstop and hit like he does is great,” said Paul Goldschmidt, a six-time All-Star. “He’s a hard worker, always trying to get better, improve, working on the little things. It’s impressive. He’s deserving of [being an All-Star].”
But DeJong also knows he’s still young in the game and has a long way to go to becoming an All-Star next year and beyond. He wants to use his first All-Star Game as a learning experience.
After all, the Cardinals are only two games behind the first-place Cubs in the National League Central, and DeJong will be a major factor in trying to chase them down.
“I just want to have little moments here and there, absorb as much information as possible,” DeJong said. “I’m going to try to have as much fun as I can, but I’d like to talk to some hitters and pitchers and pick their brains to understand their routines and thought process a little better, only to improve my game.
“That’s the way I’m going to look at it. It’s halfway through the season. We still have plenty of games left, so anything I can take away is going to be super valuable to me.”
Ask his teammates and they’ll tell you that DeJong doesn’t lack confidence. Manager Mike Shildt said DeJong is mature beyond his years. DeJong’s participation at the All-Star Game only validates the work he put in and substantiates his performance so far.
And it leaves him hungry for more.
“Me making this is a great accomplishment for myself, but I’m not satisfied with getting one or even satisfied with the way I got there,” DeJong said. “I’d rather have done better. I’d rather have been a starter. For me, it’s that attitude of always wanting to get better, keep pushing the limits.”