NEW YORK -- It can be easy to view Jacob deGrom’s career as nothing more than a whirl of numbers. His Major League-leading 0.62 ERA evokes Bob Gibson. His two National League Cy Young Awards have historical precedent. His statistics compare favorably even with those of Tom Seaver.
What’s easy to forget is that deGrom is also a human being -- and a more complex one than people often assume. Ultra-competitive and mentally sharp with a dry sense of humor, deGrom has endeared himself to teammates for more than just his performances on the field.
Here are five things you may not know about deGrom:
1) He used to work as a cattle rancher
As a child and even deep into his professional career, deGrom spent long hours each offseason working on his neighbor’s ranch in his hometown of DeLand, Fla. He stopped after the 2014 season (his rookie year), when he broke his finger while working with a calf. Although that’s probably for the best right now, deGrom still enjoys the life and plans to buy his own herd of cattle someday. deGrom has already purchased a wide swath of land in his hometown, giving him plenty of space to branch into that industry once his baseball career is through.
2) He is a fast-food junkie
When deGrom broke into the Majors in 2014, he was listed at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds -- just five ticks lighter on the scale than he is today. His consistency in that regard is due as much to genetics as lifestyle. Unlike many others in the clubhouse, deGrom tends to eat whatever he wants. Among his favorite meals, according to a 2018 profile in The New York Times, is a Big Mac with large fries, a large Mountain Dew ... and two double cheeseburgers on the side.
Although deGrom also enjoys nutritious food and says he’s eaten a bit healthier as he’s aged, his affinity for a quick, hot meal hasn’t waned. On his recent rehab assignment to Low-A St. Lucie, deGrom reportedly bought Chick-fil-A for the entire team.
3) He still plays catch with his dad in the offseason
Like, all the time. A few offseasons ago, deGrom -- a major proponent of long tossing, which he believes has helped him increase his velocity season after season -- made the decision to throw year-round. It’s something that’s becoming more popular in professional pitching circles, flying contrary to the older-school notion that an annual shutdown is important for the arm to recharge.
So deGrom plays catch from November through February, much as he does from February through October. Three or four times per week, his throwing partner is his father, Tony, whose DeLand property is close to deGrom’s own. When it’s time to ramp things up with mound work, deGrom can usually find his Mets teammate Patrick Mazeika or another catcher to throw to at nearby Stetson University, his alma mater. (Yes, the same Stetson University where deGrom played shortstop and homered off Chris Sale ... but those are factoids you already knew.)
4) He is a notorious prankster
The world received a glimpse of this during the 2015 National League Division Series in Los Angeles, where deGrom pulled the height lever on teammate Daniel Murphy’s chair during a press conference, causing Murphy’s eyes to bulge out in surprise. Much more goes on behind the scenes. For example: when rookie Kevin Kaczmarski parked in deGrom’s spot during 2017 Spring Training, he returned to the lot to find his car sealed in plastic wrap.
But deGrom’s sense of humor has also gotten him into trouble. When Curtis Granderson stuffed David Wright’s locker full of rally towels during a 2014 game in Cincinnati, Wright returned to the clubhouse to find deGrom unable to stifle his laughter. Rather than direct his ire at the veteran Granderson, Wright countered by snipping deGrom’s pants into extremely short jean shorts, which he forced the pitcher to wear on his trip back to the hotel.
5) He takes advice from Hall of Famers
One of the worst stretches of deGrom’s career occurred from late April to early May 2017, when he pitched to a 5.46 ERA over five starts. It was ugly enough for Hall of Famer John Smoltz to take notice and offer a bit of advice. When Smoltz played, he generally threw two lighter bullpen sessions between starts, rather than the one intensive session that most pitchers throw. That helped Smoltz focus more fully on his mechanics, giving him multiple opportunities to correct things between starts.
The routine spoke to deGrom, who is as hyper-aware of his own mechanical issues as any pitcher in baseball. Over his final 23 outings that season, deGrom posted a 3.36 ERA, springboarding him into his first Cy Young season in 2018. He’s thrown two bullpen sessions between starts ever since.