WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — From an adjacent room came the sound of a performer warming up on a violin that had been molded and crafted several years before the U.S. Constitution. St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong stood close enough to hear and awaited the start of Wednesday’s concert by fielding questions about his brother’s contagious fondness for classical music.
A student in Florida State’s master’s program for music theory, the younger, taller and lither brother Matthew chose music over baseball, sound over fury; and Paul started listing the instruments his kid brother played: Oboe, piano …
“And yours is?” came the question.
“A baseball bat,” Paul said.
With less than two weeks before the Cardinals’ first official full-squad workout — on Feb. 19 — DeJong, his agent Burton Rocks, and his agent’s parents attended a concert Wednesday featuring a string quartet from the Palm Beach Symphony. It was the second performance by the symphony that DeJong had seen this offseason, and he followed it with a meeting Thursday to brainstorm ways he could be more involved with the symphony’s philanthropic goals.
DeJong, 24, is coming off a season where he won the Cardinals’ starting job at shortstop, hit a franchise record 25 homers for a rookie at that position, and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. The former Illinois State star’s profile on the field is growing — which has him thinking about balancing his interests off of it, too. He wants both to stay in tune.
“I enjoy the comfort of music,” DeJong said. “Growing up is really where I found that balance. I had it as a kid. Playing baseball and school were my main two. Playing an instrument when I was a kid was third. That rounded me out. I had to make a decision. I chose baseball over music, but it’s something I’ll always have because of what I had as a child. I want to grow with it.”
Along with fellow infielders Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter, DeJong has reported early to the Cardinals’ Roger Dean Stadium facility to get work with coaches Jose Oquendo and Oliver Marmol and a feel for each other’s rhythm in the field.
They want to harmonize, so to speak.
DeJong and Wong are set to be the Cardinals’ everyday middle infield, and the team through word (comments) and deed (trades) have stood tall and bet big on DeJong having an encore. Including 48 games at Class AAA Memphis to start the year, DeJong hit 38 home runs and drove in 99 runs. Only two shortstops in the majors had a better slugging percentage than DeJong’s .515 at the position, and only four, including Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa, had a higher OPS than DeJong’s .836.
He produced like his predecessor, Aledmys Diaz, but only had an opening to do so when Diaz struggled in his second season.
DeJong is entering his.
“It’s my third spring training and all three have been vastly different,” he said. “First one was (prospect) camp. Second one was big-league camp. Third one — starter. To me, maybe the status has changed, but the preparation has to be the same.
“What I did last year worked so I’m going to focus on the same things and improve others. What I want to hear are my own expectations and my own thoughts and nothing external.”
The production did bring attention, and this offseason DeJong got to scratch his science itch by filming a few experiments on Long Island for a New York news channel. He went on MLB Network and discussed the science of baseball during winter meetings.
When he relocated to the Jupiter area to begin working out at the Cardinals’ facility, his agent, who has encouraged him to seek his outside interests — from biochem to ice fishing — invited him to the symphony. Rocks serves on the board of the Young Friends of the Palm Beach Symphony and knew of the DeJong family’s fondness for music.
His brother also would choose the music for dinner.
“I would have gone Metallica or Judas Priest,” DeJong joked.
The accompaniment caught his ear and widened it to all genres of music. He sought out the meeting Thursday to discuss ways to link his interests — science and music — and perhaps funnel that into the symphony’s work with local youths. Rocks said the focus is on “areas where the economic plight is so great that there isn’t the access” to music.
“Can we bridge that gap?” DeJong added. “Just because I wasn’t able to do it at a high level doesn’t mean I can’t foster it.”
DeJong and his agent invited a reporter along to attend Wednesday’s performance, which was held in a courtroom built in 1916 that now is part of The Palm Beach County History Museum. The concert featured three pieces, all with a Spanish influence and each bracketed around the history of a shipwreck that gave this area its name.
On Jan. 9, 1878, the 175-ton Providencia grounded near modern day Mar-a-Lago, the president’s favorite getaway. Its cargo included 20,000 coconuts, which were claimed by pioneers and sold, 2½ cents per. The planting of these coconuts gave this region of Florida its palm trees — which were not native — and ultimately led to its cities’ names, from Palm Beach to West Palm Beach and beyond.
Before each piece, a video encouraged the audience to “envision as you listen” and then gave three scenes from Palm Beach’s history. DeJong admitted, at times, he didn’t envision coconut-fueled beach parties or palm-lined gardens, but … baseball.
“My mind does wander to baseball, somehow,” he said. “You always imagine walk-up songs, honestly. Is this what I’d like to hear walking up at Busch Stadium?”
All three pieces featured a concertmaster, Evija Ozolins, playing an Antonion Gragnani violin made in 1782 — more than a century before the coconuts came to Palm Beach. One of the pieces, Luigi Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D Major, G. 488 (Fandango), allowed the cellist to shine, whether it was scampering after the tempo set by the violins or even, at one point, recreating the sound of castanets.
After the concert, DeJong posed for pictures with the musicians, shook hands, and talked with the cellist Claudio Jaffe about the Boccherini.
A cellist himself, Boccherini wanted a piece to show off, and with a royal patron he was often asked to compose music to entertain. “He was the king’s human iPod,” Jaffe told DeJong.
There was a time, DeJong described at the performance, when he had music at his fingertips. He played the piano, and an injury kept him off the field and at the keys. He learned some Beethoven and learned to adore Polish composer Frederic Chopin.
Evidently, only two performances in, word has spread. Moments before Wednesday’s concert started, another member of the audience leaned forward to ask DeJong a question.
“Are you going to play?” said Karen Rogers, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. “Will you be nervous?”
It took DeJong a perplexed moment to realize she was not talking about baseball, rather the idea that at an upcoming black-tie event for the symphony DeJong was going to reintroduce himself to the piano. He shook his head. All of his practices at this time of year focus on a different kind of percussion.
“I heard a rumor,” Rogers said, leaning back in her seat.
“Come and see me on the field, though,” he smiled.