PHILADELPHIA -- A search through the Cardinals' clubhouse for certain superlatives would turn up two top candidates for consideration as the team's brainiest player: reliever Matt Bowman and shortstop Paul DeJong.Bowman, who attended Princeton, and DeJong, who studied biochemistry at Illinois State, would likely split any hypothetical vote. But DeJong
PHILADELPHIA -- A search through the Cardinals' clubhouse for certain superlatives would turn up two top candidates for consideration as the team's brainiest player: reliever Matt Bowman and shortstop Paul DeJong.
Bowman, who attended Princeton, and DeJong, who studied biochemistry at Illinois State, would likely split any hypothetical vote. But DeJong gave his resume some added thump recently -- his scholarly credentials are now splashed on the back of his baseball card.
A new Topps Futures Star card released last week describes DeJong as "a lifelong science 'nut,' who "spent the offseason applying his avocation to his profession." The blurb cites DeJong's offseason work with Dr. Lawrence Rocks, a renowned chemist who is also the father of his agent, Burton Rocks. By making DeJong's passion public, they hope the card will encourage young baseball fans to pursue science as an off-the-field interest as well.
"I think having the science thing on there puts me in my own separate category," DeJong said. "I'm excited to having something different on mine than on a standard baseball card."
DeJong and Dr. Rocks, who is 84, found common ground last winter when the two ran experiments to test how the elasticity of a baseball reacts to changes in air temperature. Over the course of an afternoon during which Rocks said DeJong "showed a lot of enthusiasm ... he got to know everybody -- from the chairman of the department to the lab assistant," they concluded heat affects a baseball positively -- but only to a point. Rocks said the optimal temperature is 75 degrees. Anything colder or warmer provides enough resistance to slow the ball and truncate the distance it travels.
"We picked the baseball experiment because its something kids can relate to," Rocks said. "I want kids to understand you don't need a PhD to be a scientist. Some of the best scientists in this world did not have a formal education."
DeJong, who is progressing in his rehab from a broken hand, plans to return this offseason to Dr. Rocks' lab on Long Island University's C.W. Post campus in Brookville, N.Y., to participate in further studies. Of Dr. Rocks' leading curiosities: how a better understanding of tendon chemistry can help athletes avoid injury.
"Ever since he told me about that, I started thinking about my training and how I can apply it," DeJong said. "[There are players who] intuitively you feel are 'country strong,' who are doing that farm-boy work for a purpose. It's not just going into a gym and lifting weights. You're doing movements that build your muscles correctly over time. I'd like to chop some firewood and haul it. I've done that plenty of times growing up. For me, that's just as good a workout as going into the gym and lifting for an hour."
Asked what he'd be doing if he weren't playing baseball, DeJong said: "Probably studying in the library somewhere. I'd probably still be in school."
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.