John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Over the years I've come to rely on scouts for their observations, insights and opinions, so when John Morris, a scout and special assistant to the GM for the Cincinnati Reds, called me recently and said, "I've got a great Jacob deGrom story for you," I was all ears.
I assumed John was going to put deGrom's second straight sensational season in some unique perspective for me, as only a long-time scout could, and as it turned, out, I was right.
Only it wasn't about his pitching.
"He's a really good guy," Morris said. "He went out of his way to make some people's day who had bid money to spend some time with him. It was really nice to see a player of his stature make these guys feel so good about getting to meet him."
Ok, so this wasn't going to be the juiciest story I'd ever written, but when John explained the context of his praise for deGrom, I understood his excitement.
In short, the deGrom meet-and-greet with four fans at Citi Field a couple of weeks ago was a payoff for a fund-raising event to benefit St. Jude's Hospital in Memphis, one of the world's most renowned facilities for treating children with cancer, famously at no cost to patients.
Morris' connection to the cause is his wife, Marilena Greig, an insurance executive who is on the Advisory Board of Directors for St. Jude's. She and John both grew up in the New York area and now live in Connecticut, so when Marilena chaired a fund-raising event for St. Jude's last spring at Westchester Country Club, John reached out to the local baseball community for help.
"People from the Mets and Yankees were great," he said.
In particular Morris cited Yankees' VP of Baseball Operations Tim Naehring, an old friend, for providing him with signed jerseys, including one from Aaron Judge, to be auctioned off; broadcaster Suzyn Waldman for offering a tour of the broadcast facilities in the Bronx as part of a day with her; and Mets' community relations director Donovan Mitchell for his help with various team-related items, as well as for reaching out to deGrom.
Morris had heard through friends, including new Mets' bench coach Jim Riggleman, that deGrom was as good a guy as he is an extraordinary pitcher. So when he needed a player that would agree to be auctioned off for the meet-and-greet, deGrom was No. 1 on his list.
Keep in mind, this was back before the season began, before Pete Alonso took New York by storm, and deGrom, as the reigning Cy Young Award winner, was by far the most celebrated Met.
"I knew the bidding for Jacob would raise the most money for the hospital," Morris recalled recently. "And I thought he'd the right guy to do it.
"I was still a little hesitant to ask. I know that so many requests are made of these players. But when you're talking about saving children's lives, I think that hits home for a lot of guys."
It did for deGrom, perhaps in part because the first of his two children, son Jaxon, had a serious medical condition at birth in 2016 that required as week in a Florida hospital's special-care nursery.
Donovan Mitchell, the father of the NBA star by the same name, said he never discussed the medical situation of deGrom's son when he approached the reigning Cy Young winner during spring training about Morris' request, but got the sense the cause meant a lot to him.
"Jacob didn't hesitate when I asked," Mitchell said. "When he heard it was for St. Jude's, he said, 'Absolutely, whatever you need.'"
Perhaps only Marilena was more thrilled than her husband to get the news. She's been involved with St. Jude's for 25 years, and speaks passionately about the wonders of a hospital that treats children with cancer from all over the world, and does so at no cost to patients or their families, relying largely on donations.
"It's an incredible place," Marilena said. "Fifty and sixty years ago, after it was founded by (entertainer) Danny Thomas, 90 percent of kids with cancer were dying there. Now 90 percent are surviving. And families don't pay.
"So I can't thank the Mets and Yankees enough for their help with our fund-raising. And especially Jacob deGrom. Four gentlemen put in a winning bid for a meet-and-greet with him at Citi Field before a game, and he wound up spending 30 minutes with them, as nice as they could have ever hoped for.
"You should have seen the smiles on their faces. One guy had a million questions, and Jacob was great about it, answering every one."
Morris, who together with his wife was present for the meet-and-greet at Citi Field, added that several teammates, including Alonso, Todd Frazier, Brandon Nimmo, and Seth Lugo, came over to speak to the bid-winners upon hearing about the cause.
"As a scout I'm paid to evaluate players," Morris said. "So it was really nice to see them, especially Jacob, not just as baseball players but as human beings who understood this was for a worthy cause.
"These four gentlemen with the winning bid were all in their sixties, but to see their faces afterward it looked like they felt 20 years younger just from the experience of spending that kind of time with a guy like Jacob."
So I guess John was right about his deGrom story. And, after all, even baseball writers, or perhaps especially baseball writers, need to be reminded occasionally that the best players can simply be good people as well.