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DeJesus eyeing the ball, thanks to Dad

Dad keeps baseball in the family

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KANSAS CITY -- An hour before first pitch, the only person occupying the seats behind home plate is wearing a navy blue shirt and Royals ballcap and is watching the field as closely as a scout.

The Detroit Tigers are in the middle of batting practice. Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera -- some of the best hitters in the game -- step into the cage and take a few cuts.

The man sitting there in the navy blue about 10 rows up is Heryk DeJesus, and he doesn't take his eyes off the scene. He's looking at the sluggers' techniques, comparing their swings to those of his sons, David and Michael.

The game starts. Heryk is sitting in Kauffman Stadium's Crown Seats. Most of the people next to him sip on beers or are stuffing themselves with complimentary ice cream treats. Heryk is there studying every hitter, especially David, Kansas City's versatile outfielder. Heryk tries to guess what the pitcher will throw, and then sees how the hitter reacts.

"He loves the art of the swing," David said.

This is how Heryk DeJesus always dreamed it would be. He never played organized ball growing up in Puerto Rico, instead joining the neighborhood kids for games at a park where they used rocks instead of bases.

Heryk knew his kids could make it, though. He chose to give the gift of baseball to them -- Heryk Jr., David and Michael -- training their eyes for the game since they could eat. He moved the spoon around to an old Puerto Rican tune before putting the food in their mouths, always making sure their eyes followed.

When the family moved from Brooklyn to Manalapan, N.J., one of the first orders of business was making a small baseball field in the dirt. Before they had a blade of grass or a fence. He wanted that baseball diamond badly.

Heryk Jr. played throughout high school, but shoulder injuries cut his career short. David is currently in his fifth year with the Royals, and Michael is in Sarasota, Fla., playing for the Reds' Class A affiliate.

"The love he had for baseball," Michael said, "made us love it."

*****

Heryk would leave for the park at 8 nearly every summer morning, joining several other boys from his Puerto Nuevo neighborhood in San Juan and not return until the early afternoon.

A large stone designated second base in this park. One time, Heryk backed up for a fly ball and nearly tripped over it. He looked down to keep his balance and lost track of the ball. It hit him in the head.

They had only that one ball to play with. When the cover came off from too much wear and tear, the boys would cover it up with black tape.

"If that ball hit you," Heryk said, "it hurt."

Almost every boy grew up loving the game in Puerto Rico, and Heryk was no exception. If he wasn't playing, he'd watch the pros in action 10 minutes away at the nearby stadium. Major Leaguers like Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton and Paul Blair wowed Heryk playing winter ball before they became established stars.

The worst time during those summer days came around 2 in the afternoon. That was when Heryk's father made him work at his men's clothing store until closing time. While he helped customers, the other boys kept on playing.

"I said I could've been a Major League player if I didn't have to go to the store," Heryk joked.

Instead, after attending the University of Puerto Rico, he joined the Marines, later moving to Brooklyn. Heryk and his wife, Victoria, had three kids -- three boys that Heryk could share the game with.

*****

Heryk Jr. calls it the "little bat." David refers to it as the "long yellow one." Neighbors in Brooklyn just remember how they hammered the Wiffle ball off the bat against a brick wall.

They swung left-handed, of course. Heryk taught them that way. That separated them from the pack and gave them an extra step to first.

"People were sitting there and were like, 'Wow, these guys can hit'" Heryk said. "It was a showcase at 3 or 4 years old."

Heryk said his boys would be baseball players when they were born. Heryk Jr. came first, David a year later and Michael four years after David.

Soon the boys traded their plastic bat and ball for a real one. When the garage door opened in Manalapan, it meant baseball time. Heryk would get home from his job as a computer programmer and take the boys outside. He set up a blanket they could hit into in the basement for practice in the winter.

They'd swing the bat about 400 times a day, off a tee or on a flip from Heryk. He always made sure his kids swung directly toward the ball and focused on hitting to the opposite field. Sometimes they'd tape the sessions and watch them at night.

"He's been everything since I was young," Michael said. "Sometimes I didn't like it, but when I got older, I noticed it was for a reason. He deserves all the credit."

*****

On this trip to Kansas City, Heryk Sr. is all over the clubhouse, just like he is on all his visits. He talks with Frank White, several players and hitting coach Mike Barnett. He even makes a television appearance during one of the game broadcasts.

"I love to come to Kansas City," Heryk Sr. said. "To me, this baseball environment, I love it. I talk to anybody that wants to talk to me."

That includes David and Michael about three or four times a week. They talk baseball, and Heryk still gives them small tips about their swings if they ask.

But they're all grown up. A man as passionate about baseball as Heryk needs more time around the game. So, he teaches kids.

About 60 of them from Manalapan and the surrounding area come to his house for lessons. They range from grade school to high school. Some play baseball. Some play softball. They all get the same lessons he taught Heryk Jr., David and Michael, and the same attention. When the kids play, Heryk even goes to watch some of them.

"I always tell them," he said, "I expect two hits every game."

He loves to teach, so much so that he plans on making it his full-time job in the near future.

A friend called a few weeks ago with an offer. Heryk is going to be the director of baseball training for the Magic Sports Complex in South Jersey when it opens.

It's the perfect job for Heryk. Baseball and teaching. He's already taught his three sons the game he loves. Now he'll be able to share that passion with even more.

"I always say," Heryk Jr. said, "my pops was born to teach the game."

Mark Dent is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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