David DeJesus sports a .347 OBP, but on a Royals team that ranks second to the bottom in the American League in that category at .318, he is an exception rather than the rule. The 29-year-old native of Brooklyn will never be confused with Rickey Henderson or Wade Boggs, but unlike most of the Dayton Moore-constructed Kansas City lineup, he at least seems to recognize the value of getting on base. If nothing else, he possesses the capability to do so. A career .286/.358/.425 hitter, DeJesus talked about his approach at the plate, and his success with runners in scoring position, when the Royals visited Fenway Park earlier this summer.
David Laurila: How would you describe David DeJesus?
David DeJesus: Overall, I’m just a regular guy. I think I see baseball as my career, right now, but baseball lasts for what, ten years or so? That’s my goal, to get ten years in the game. After baseball, I feel that I’m really interested in being a trainer. I’m really big into the workout scene. That’s something I love dearly, and I’m going to pursue it after baseball.
DL: Do baseball players need to train differently than athletes in other sports?
DD: I think so. That’s just because baseball season is so long. You can’t really break down your muscle by lifting heavy as much, and you have to make sure that you maintain that strength all year long, because it’s a six- or seven-month game. When you have trainers like the one we have here-our guy is Ty Hill, who used to be with the Pittsburgh Pirates-he definitely makes out a plan for us. Each player is individualized, because there are so many different bodies in baseball. I’m a guy who likes to go at least four times a week, to the gym, because I don’t like the feeling where the bat starts feeling heavy in your hands. I hate that feeling, so I’m going to be there. Me and John Buck are always there.
DL: Are you expected to strictly adhere to the program set up for you, or do you have the freedom to incorporate your own routines?
DD: He gives us a plan, like he wants us to do legs, and stuff, but we’re able to go out and pick a few exercises that we want to do that day. Like, on legs day, some days we’ll do either a squat or a lunge, but we don’t want to overdo one muscle group and forget about the other muscle group. We want to keep both sides working at the same time so that you don’t have one side stronger than the other side.
DL: You have decent, but not great speed, and the same could be said for your power. Have you been working to improve either area more than the other?
DD: You know, I think it’s all-around. We do every type of training. We try to do our power, but power comes more from the swing than being all big. There are a few guys in this league… Ichiro has a lot of power, but he doesn’t really use it. If he wanted to, he could hit the ball out all the time. So it doesn’t matter how big you are, it’s the type of swing you have. But I’m the type of guy that is going to work my hardest for everything. I haven’t been blessed with the best skills, but I feel like I’m going to put my work in, do my best, and give my best out there on the field. That’s what has got me here.
DL: One of your teammates, Brian Bannister, has referred to himself as a student of the game of baseball. Do you view yourself in a similar fashion?
DD: I think that Brian is way more of a student than I am. He goes into the in-depth, in the computer, of how many balls and strikes. Maybe he doesn’t like throwing his curveball 2-and-1, or something like that. I’m more about putting all of my work in and trying to outwork you, and hopefully all of that work will get me to the top of the game.
DL: How much work do you put into studying the opposing pitcher?
DD: I definitely pay attention to that, because I usually go back the last two years with how that pitcher pitched me. But baseball is also one of those games where you can go back those two years, but then you’ll see that this year he’ll pitch you completely different. So, it’s one of those things where you just have to go out there and relax and just have fun. My thing is that I always have a smile on my face, because I’m blessed in this game. God has blessed me with the talent to play baseball and I want to show kids that it’s a game. It is a game, and it’s fun out there. It’s definitely a big business, but overall it’s a game that we’ve been playing since we were three or four years old.
DL: You’re a leadoff hitter in an organization where your manager, Trey Hillman, has spoken often about the importance of seeing pitches and drawing walks. Do you consciously go to the plate with that in mind?
DD: Earlier in the year, I’d say that I was more aggressive, but now I feel that the deeper you go into the count, the more you’re going to see the pitcher and the better your at-bats are going to be later in the game. And it helps the lineup, because it shows them what this pitcher has and how he’s going to attack left-handed hitters. So, I think that it definitely does help, and our team has gotten better with that-taking pitches and seeing pitches. Our job is to try to get the starting pitcher out of the game in the sixth inning.
DL: How difficult is to let pitches that are in the strike zone go by, early in the count?
DD: It’s tough, because everyone wants to drive the ball out of the ballpark. You definitely like trotting the bases, but that’s something that’s overlooked in this game-guys who can see pitches, work counts, and get the pitches up, helping the team win in any way. However, if you don’t hit it out, you’re making a one-pitch out; that does nothing for the team.
DL: Is your approach any different in the leadoff position than it is hitting elsewhere in the lineup?
DD: You know, I’ve tried not to do that. I’ve batted third, and this year I’ve even batted seventh and eighth. It’s one of those things where you just have to go up there, relax, and try to hit what the pitcher is giving you. Don’t try to do too much; just go out there and compete. That’s all you can do is compete and give your best. That’s going to be your best outcome.
DL: Do you agree with the idea that there is no such thing as a clutch hitter?
DD: No, there are definitely clutch hitters. Albert Pujols is one of those guys where you feel that aura when he comes up with men on base. He’s one of those guys where, as an opponent, you feel that this guy is going to get a hit and it’s weird if he doesn’t get that clutch hit. There are a few guys who can do that in the game and it’s one of those things that every guy wants to be labeled as.
DL: Do you know which player drove in the highest percentage of runners in scoring position, per plate appearance, last year?
DD: Yeah, I’ve heard of him. I think his name is David DeJesus, or something like that?
DL: What do you remember thinking when you found out that you held that distinction?
DD: I heard it during the offseason, and I was like, ‘that’s pretty cool.’ You know, when there’s a man on second, you want to drive him in, but you also want to be smart. If you don’t drive him in, you want to at least move the runner over. Last year was a good year, and this year I’m trying to improve and work my hardest.
DL: Is success in that situation primarily a matter of focus?
DD: Definitely. It’s one of those things where if there’s a man on second and nobody out, you know the pitcher is going to throw you to the outside part of the plate, so you can either move closer to the plate or just make sure that you stay inside the ball and drive it that way, rather than just grounding the ball.
DL: A lot of players-and this was especially common in earlier generations-don’t like to take walks with a runner on third base, because they feel it is their responsibility to drive them in. How do you approach that situation?
DD: You know, we haven’t been hitting well with runners in scoring position this year, and George Brett came into our locker room and had a talk with us hitters. He was like, the one thing to remind yourself of is that there is always a guy behind you. There’s always a batter behind you, so if you get on base, it’s his job to get on base also. So, I think [Brett] was a big proponent of taking that walk and getting on base. The more guys that get on base, those are the times you have big innings. You’d rather have three or four base hits than two guys on and then a home run, because that stops the inning right there. So, that was pretty cool, hearing it from a Hall of Famer and baseball great.
DL: Is advice more meaningful when it comes from a player of Brett’s stature?
DD: Definitely, because he’s a Hall of Famer. How many Hall of Famers do you get to interact with on a daily basis? But with him, it was God-given talent, where with guys like us, regular baseball players… we don’t have the talents he had. It came easier to him and we have to work hard to even get half of his talents. It’s one of those things where it’s awesome to hear what he says. He was a great player; he almost batted .400 in this league, and that doesn’t happen too often. He’s one of the best lefty hitters that has ever played.
DL: Which of your teammates possesses a talent that makes you think, ‘Man, I wish I could do that?’
DD: I’d say [Mark] Teahen, with his speed and the way he can play every position. I’m a lefty, so I only get to play the outfield. He’s one of those players that can play at third, second, first, left, right, and center for us. He’s so valuable to a team like ours, where we aren’t going to go out and get those big-name guys. When you have a guy who can play every spot, and play it to where you have a lot of confidence in him, he’s a special type of player.
DL: If you were a pitcher on this team, who would you be?
DD: I’d be Zack, for sure.
DL: Why Zack Greinke?
DD: Because he’s good! No, I don’t have a 96 mph fastball, but Zack is one of those guys who prepares himself well and goes out there and competes to the best of his ability.
DL: You said that you can only play the outfield because you’re left-handed. Does that make you feel discriminated against?
DD: Yeah, like when I was 10, I was a shortstop for our Little League team. And I was a great shortstop, but once the field got a little bigger and the guys started hitting the ball a little harder, that’s when I was like, ‘All right, let me just focus on the outfield.’ Out there, you get more time to react to the ball. When you’re in the infield, the ball is coming at you pretty quick.
DL: Any final thoughts?
DD: I just want people to know that I’m a proponent of having fun playing the game of baseball that I grew up playing my whole life. That’s really what I want to get across. I love playing the game of baseball.