As I arrived in Surprise, Arizona to check out the organization's farmhands the first week of the month, the 57-year-old was the very first person I saw on the field, player, coach or grounds crew member. "DJ," a former major league infielder himself, was there to spend extra time on defensive instruction with shortstop Pete Kozma and third baseman Zack Cox (pictured). After the minor league seasons ended in September, he had been invited to work with the major league club for a week, as well.
Prior to heading to Arizona, DeJohn spoke about his new responsibilities. In addition to hands-on coaching, they include supervision of all the Cardinals minor league teams during the season as well as running minor league spring training and extended spring training plus the fall instructional league, if held.
The spring and fall roles had recently been performed by Johnson City manager Mike Shildt since the departure three years ago of DeJohn's predecessor, current Washington Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. Shildt, our Manager of the Year in the Cardinals system, has yielded those roles to one of his career mentors, DeJohn.
"You know what I think of DJ," Shildt reminded me recently. "I think he is the best. I think the world of him. I wouldn't be where I am here without him. The position is needed and he is the perfect person for it. I would expect him to be the lead voice for spring training and rightfully so."
DeJohn, a long-time coach at the major league and minor league levels for the Cardinals, including 1996 through 2001 on Tony La Russa's staff, acknowledges he has an important role to play in helping to bring the system together.
"I am really happy about it," DeJohn explained. "All I want to do is to try and help make the situation better. No matter what is going on in the organization, you try to make improvements every year."
On the surface, I wondered if DeJohn's new job was really all that different from his previous assignment. He left no doubt that is the case.
"Last year, I was listed as a senior field instructor," he said. "I didn't feel like I had the authority to tell the managers if I saw some things that were being done wrong or that we needed to change or just advise a guy that ‘we can't do this' or ‘we want to do this' or whatever. I just don't think I had the authority to go in and do those things.
"I could say, ‘I wouldn't do this' but I wasn't really the guy to say ‘Hey listen - this is not what we're going to do.' It starts right from spring training with a certain structure that you've got to have with regard to a number of things in player development," DeJohn said.
DeJohn recognizes that the changes in the organization began above him, including his new boss, farm director John Vuch, and continue all the way down through the ranks.
"There are just so many areas we need to address and get better at," he said. "As the field coordinator, with the authority that I will have, it will be much better. Add the simple fact that John Vuch becoming the farm director…
"Obviously, Jeff (Luhnow) with the scouting and everything else he was doing, he wasn't around as much. Maybe the communication was not as good as it needed to be. He was spread pretty thin. That is tough to do both of those jobs and that is why in a lot of organizations it is not done like that. It's just a tough spot, to get out and see your teams enough and to try to address the things he needs," DeJohn said.
DeJohn's role is a nuts-and-bolts job, helping the staffs pull together and as much as it sounds like a cliché, to stress always teaching the game ‘The Cardinal Way.'
"All in all, it is just something that they felt like the day to day operation needed to be looked at a bit more, more scrutinized," he explained. "There are certain things that have to be addressed. They're trying to make these changes, trying to get back to doing things as they were done in the past."
DeJohn and the rest of the organization are working to build upon a 2010 season that saw an influx of new talent, improvements from many of the returnees and results in the standings as well. Five of the seven US-based minor league affiliates reached the post-season.
"This organization has a lot of history," DeJohn observed. "It's not like we're on the bottom. We're just trying to get subtle fixes and make the whole thing better. The minor leagues will be in better shape and I think the big league team will be better next year. I just think the whole situation is heading in the right direction."
One man alone can't do it all, but DeJohn has no problem accepting the responsibility that goes with the territory.
"The change is good, but now it is up to us – the guys who have their new jobs – it is up to us to make it better. We can talk about it all we want, but it is up to us," DeJohn concluded.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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