White Sox shortstop Paul DeJong’s appreciation for game at all-time high

Like many players before him, White Sox shortstop Paul DeJong has experienced the highs and lows of a major-league career.

There was the splashy arrival on the scene with the Cardinals, for whom he was second in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2017 and an All-Star in 2019. And there was a stark falloff in production, multiple trades and a plummeting value that allowed the Sox to sign him for the dirt-cheap price of $1.75 million in the offseason.

And there was the resurrection, which DeJong is experiencing this season. In a year in which offensive numbers have dropped in baseball, DeJong’s 14 home runs were tied for second among shortstops entering Thursday.

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“This year, I’ve gained a huge appreciation for what it even means to play baseball,” DeJong told the Sun-Times. “Maybe I took things for granted. The expectation drowned me out a little bit after a few good years. And now I can really see what it’s like to be here.”

When DeJong sees teammates struggling, he knows what they’re dealing with. That, too, has been a revelation.

“I can see other players and where their heads are at and say, ‘I was there,’ ’’ he said. “When you don’t quite know what is going on and you’re trying to figure things out. It’s the experience as a whole that is so valuable.”

DeJong, 30, who’s tied with Andrew Vaughn for the team lead with 70 games played for the 20-56 Sox, was rested for a day game after a night game. He struck out as a pinch hitter against Josh Hader in the ninth inning and will take a .236/.283/.467 hitting line with a .750 OPS (second-best among the Sox) into the series at Detroit starting Friday, and his 0.6 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference, is tied for first among Sox position players.

“He’s the same guy every day, comes to play really hard, plays to win every single night,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “He’s a true professional.”

That, and his numbers — especially the home runs, which have him on pace to eclipse his career-high 30 from 2019 — will probably get him traded again as the Sox look to the future and offer players such as DeJong to teams willing to part with prospects before the July 30 deadline. DeJong, who is single, knows it and has learned to keep his suburban house picked up and in order so he’s ready when it happens.

“I feel like I’m more mobile, so it’s streamlining my whole life whether I’m playing with the Sox or someone else,” he said.

Between last Aug. 1 and Nov. 28, DeJong was traded by the Cardinals to the Blue Jays, released by the Jays, signed as a free agent by the Giants, released by the Giants and signed by the Sox.

The north suburban Antioch High School and Illinois State product is bracing for another trade.

“Going through what I went through last year will help me, whenever it is,” he said. “I like playing in Chicago and like this city, but I know this is a business, and I’m not sure what their long-term plans are for me. I won’t take it personally.”

Wherever he goes, DeJong will bring an appreciation for the game.

“When you see all the Cardinals legends I met and when you see Willie Mays die, I have a great appreciation for the guys who paved the way for me,” DeJong said. “Baseball is so connected to its history that you have to recognize the great ones, and you have to be inspired by them. You have to be the best you can be, so the next generation can be inspired by your work.”

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