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Jason and Me

May 11, 2010

By Jon Cooper

Baum Stadium on the campus of the University of Arkansas has a seating capacity in excess of 10,000.

At least 10 times that many people are probably now claiming they were in Fayetteville the weekend of June 16-18, 2006, when the facility hosted the Perfect Game National Showcase, a collection of the nation’s top high school talent. The reason for the sudden spike in attendance for that particular game, which is usually attended primarily by friends, family and scouts, is that it included current Atlanta Braves rookie phenom Jason Heyward.

One person who wouldn’t be telling a white lie about being there is Georgia Tech’s junior shortstop Derek Dietrich. (Current teammate Deck McGuire also can boast of participating in the showcase).

Not only was he there, but he was a teammate of Heyward’s.

Dietrich, a Parma, Ohio, native, who at the time was about a month shy of his 17th birthday, was placed on Heyward’s East Cobb Braves for the game by the Ford Family, which runs Perfect Game. He remembers his first interaction with the Henry County High School star outfielder. The encounter resulted in Dietrich gaining something priceless from Heyward — a nickname.

“I didn’t have a team to go on, so they said, ‘We’ll put you on a team.’ At the time, I knew [East Cobb] was an elite team, but I didn’t know any of the guys,” he recalled. “They’re all in their East Cobb Uniforms. I’ve got my own uniform on, I’ve got on my stirrups, which I got from my grandfather (former Major League infielder Steve Demeter, who played 15 games with Detroit then Cleveland in 1959 and ’60) who played. I always liked the look.

“From that [first] moment, Jason gave me the nickname, ‘Old School,'” he continued. “So all of his buddies and teammates called me ‘Old School’ because of the stirrups.”

Dietrich remembers being instantly impressed as much by Heyward the man-child as he was by Heyward the ball player.

“Right from the get-go, you knew Jason was so physically mature, being so big and powerful. But getting to know him as a person, you got to see how mentally and emotionally mature he was at his age,” said Dietrich, who actually is 22 days older than Heyward. “He came prepared every day. He knew what the pitchers and the opposing teams wanted to do and he was ready. He knew what he wanted to do. He always had a plan.”

Heyward proved to be as charismatic off the field as he was dominating on it and Dietrich relished the opportunity to get to know him better later that summer when the two were teammates on the East Team in the AFLAC All-American game.

“He’s such a funny guy, great personality, keeps things light,” he said. “He’s just a great guy, a great individual, a big smile and just an awesome guy to be around. I hope one day I can play in the big leagues with him. That would be special, for sure.”


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