While the I-70 series may spark a new sensation for St. Louis Cardinals rookie Paul DeJong, it draws him back to a similar experience from his college baseball career.
“I kind of saw that a little bit in college with the War on 74 with Illinois State-Bradley, and now it’s I-70,” DeJong, who played for Illinois State from 2013-2015, said. It’s great to have the conflicting fanbases clash and represent as best as they can.”
DeJong has made a notable impact in his first taste of an in-state rivalry in the majors, collecting three hits and a pair of RBIs in St. Louis’s two victories over the Kansas City Royals.
Through his first 60 MLB games, DeJong is one of only eleven players with 16 home runs over his first 60 MLB games. Monday’s blast also moved him ahead of Matt Carpenter for the team lead, and the pace could give him the most for a Cardinals rookie since Albert Pujols in 2001.
The power is nothing new for DeJong, who collected 44 round trippers in three minor league seasons. But it was not until July 24 that he had his first chance to hit in the third in the batting order, since when he has started all but one of St. Louis’s last 15 games.
“He’s been doing it for awhile now, and there’s no reason not to,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said on batting DeJong third. “We put people in different spots when the opening comes and see how they look, and see how they respond and he has done a great job.”
On top of this task, DeJong has adjusted to shortstop after spending most of his minor league career patrolling second or third base. His third inning double play in Tuesday’s win was one of 18 he has turned at the position this year, and he has only made one error at the position since the start of July.
“It’s pretty fun to be able to do what I’m doing at the highest level.” DeJong said. “It kind of just gives me a little bit of a sense of satisfaction to be able to do what I’m doing right now and knowing I can still raise the bar, keep making my adjustments and become a better player.”
DeJong credits the roster’s balance of experience for his success, featuring several players from past postseason runs and five rookies who made their Major League debuts this season.
“The veteran guys have really helped me adjust just with the lifestyle and the game, and really it’s just like next guy up with this organization,” DeJong said. “Everyone has made their contribution, and I’m trying to make mine as well.”
St. Louis has fared 21-16 in games he has started at shortstop, finishing Tuesday’s road trip with a four-game winning streak. More victories should help DeJong work his way to a constant in the team’s lineup, as the I-70 series moves to Busch Stadium with the Cardinals 2.5 games behind the National Central division lead.