Jerry Dipoto cheers on son Jonah ... against his own team!

March 30th, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Jerry Dipoto had to halt the interview. He couldn’t hold back the waterworks.

Moments prior, sitting in a booth atop the Peoria Sports Complex for a Royals-Mariners matinee, Seattle’s president of baseball operations watched his son, Jonah, pitch a perfect eighth inning for Kansas City. With his wife, Tamie, seated to his left, Jerry stood with his trademark “scout” look -- right hand under left elbow, chin down, glasses on and biting his thumb -- but he looked far more anxious, and for good reason.

Jonah had battled through a broken olecranon bone in his pitching elbow, had worked tirelessly to recover and had leaped back onto the Royals’ radar during Minor League Spring Training. And here he was, finally, a 35th-round Draft pick, getting a taste of his dream and pitching in a big league spring game for the first time -- all with his parents and his wife, Lauren, on hand.

Jonah Dipoto embraces his mother, Tamie, after pitching in his first big league Spring Training game against the Mariners, whose baseball operations are overseen by his father, Jerry, to his right.

“I can’t even describe the emotions, honestly. It’s hard for me to put it into words right now,” Jonah said postgame, hardly able to contain a huge smile. “[It's] something that I’ve been thinking about for years and years, just being on the mound pitching for a Major League team. And then to be able to do it here, in front of my family -- and especially my dad, while he’s in the stands and against his team -- that’s just awesome. Like I said, I can’t even describe it. It’s so exciting to be out here.”

Said Jerry, pausing to gather his emotions: “All day, we're watching down there to see if he’s getting up, to see if he’s stretching. Thrill of a lifetime, thrill of a lifetime. And I think he was pretty good. ... I'm really proud of him. It’s hard to imagine remaining composed in that situation when you’re pitching against your dad's team.”

Jonah traveled with the Royals to Mesa on Sunday and thought his spring debut would come then. The Dipotos drove down from Peoria, but Jonah didn’t get in the game. So, when Jonah found out he’d be on the roster Tuesday vs. the Mariners, he hoped his time would come. Jerry had a strong hunch, which prompted Lauren’s father to make the five-and-a-half hour drive from San Diego, arriving 15 minutes before Jonah took the mound.

“Last night, I went to bed dreaming about coming out here and actually getting to throw,” Jonah said. “I’m glad it worked out and being here especially. I’m going to sleep really good tonight.”

Jonah entered for what was mostly mop-up duty in Kansas City’s 11-4 win, but he flashed a 94 mph fastball and a solid breaking ball. He induced a groundout to Chance Sisco and a flyout to Zach DeLoach, with a strikeout to Riley Unroe in between. That evoked a hearty applause from his dad, which had a sort of quirky, humorous irony given that the batter in the box played for the team he runs.

“No offense to Riley Unroe, but I was pretty fired up,” Jerry said.

“It’s hard to make him do that,” Jonah said about his dad cheering against his own team. “The clean inning was maybe the best part."

When Jonah walked off the field, Royals manager Mike Matheny greeted him on the top step of the dugout with a firm handshake and a smile. Matheny motioned up to the booth where Jonah’s parents stood and told Jonah to wave, so Jonah took off his cap, tipped it toward the booth and grinned.

Matheny recognized the moment because he knew what it was like.

“Without question, one of the most special moments of my baseball career is when I was sitting over here watching my kid,” Matheny said. “My heart never pumped so hard, just watching my own kid on a Major League field. Even though it’s Spring Training, I just know how special that is. The first thing [Jonah] needed to know when he came off the field was that he deserved the right to be here. He’s doing everything right, going about it the right way. And as you can see, he’s got good stuff.”

Beyond the same name on the back of his jersey, Jonah looked like his father on the mound. With a setup from the stretch on the right side of the rubber, and a windup in which he turns his back more dramatically toward the hitter, Jonah’s delivery mirrors what Jerry’s looked like when he was pitching in the Majors in the 1990s.

Mariners manager Scott Servais was Jerry’s catcher for the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate during Jerry’s final pro season in 2000 -- Jonah was three years old at the time -- and was taken aback by the resemblance.

“Having played against and with Jerry, you see the mannerisms of their kids when they're out there -- it looks just like Jerry,” Servais said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Jonah was one of the many whose development stalled due to the cancellation of the Minors season in 2020, but he came back strong in ‘21 and racked up a 3.19 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 31 innings for High-A Quad Cities. He suffered that elbow injury -- from falling and bracing for impact in an off-field incident, not pitching -- yet he’s bounced back and has turned heads in Minor League camp.

“I think he has good stuff,” Jerry said. “He's got a good breaking ball. He can get it up into the mid-90s. And if he throws strikes, he's got a chance, and that's about all you can ask.”