PEORIA, Ariz. — The mirrored frames of his Maui Jim sunglasses hid Jerry Dipoto’s tears from everyone, including his wife, who didn’t even try to hide her emotion.
But as the emotion of the moment clogged the Mariners general manager’s throat when he spoke, causing his voice to crack and his lips to tremble, a little bit of moisture could be seen leaking out the bottom of those emotion-hiding lenses.
Already swelling with pride having just watched his son, Jonah, pitch a 1-2-3 inning for the Royals against the Mariners in Tuesday’s Cactus League game, he was overcome when his son handed him the hat he wore in the game as a keepsake.
“I was already crying, and by that time it was just piling on,” he said.
Every year, at least a hundred minor-league pitchers, not on their team’s 40-man roster, suit up for random games as emergency relievers. Some get the chance to pitch in games while others just sit and watch. Very few of those moments have the sort of a background story of the son of an MLB general manager pitching against his father’s team.
It might have been a less interesting story — well not to the Dipotos — had Jonah pitched on Sunday at Sloane Park against the Cubs.
Jerry Dipoto and his wife, Tamie, traveled to Mesa that day, eschewing the Mariners game vs. the A’s at Hohokam Stadium, to see if Jonah might pitch against the Cubs as a backup reliever.
“They wound up giving up the lead in the seventh so they didn’t play a ninth and he didn’t get to pitch,” Jerry Dipoto said. “And then last night, the pitching coach called and told him that he was going to be the backup today. He was so fired up and I immediately told Tamie they were going to put him in the game.”
Because he expected Jonah to pitch, Jerry and Tamie opted to watch the game in the GM suite in the press box instead of their seats right behind home plate.
“He would’ve been staring us right in the face,” Jerry said. “We sat upstairs, and I’m glad we did.”
With his father’s parents and siblings watching back in Kansas City, where they have lived for a long time, Jonah Dipoto entered the game in the eighth inning with Jerry leaning on the rail of the window of his suite watching intently — less as baseball executive and more as a dad.
“I was shockingly calm, but I think it was mostly because I was trying to go through breathing techniques so I wouldn’t just start crying and actually see,” he said. “My wife was crying the whole time.”
Showing a fastball with velocity ranging from 92-94 mph and solid curveball, Jonah Dipoto got Chance Sisco to ground out to first base, struck out Riley Unroe looking and got Zach DeLoach to fly out to left, drawing a nice ovation from the small crowd at Peoria Stadium.
As he watched Jonah pitch, Mariners manager Scott Servais couldn’t help but see Jerry on the mound.
“How about that? Wow,” Servais said. “Having played against and with Jerry, you see the mannerism. He looks just like Jerry, unbelievable, from the set up and how the arm works.”
Jerry was Jonah’s pitching coach from the time he could throw a ball. So it stands to reason they’d throw the same.
“I would hang down when I took the sign, but similarly, we’re off the edge of the rubber on the far side,” Jerry said. “He’s across his body and a lot of the things that I did. He worked with me his whole life. One way or the other, he was going to be stuck with it, but hopefully he got the good things. The Royals, over these last three years he’s been with them, they’ve done a remarkable job of kind of cleaning up the things that I screwed up and he looks better now.”
Jonah Dipoto, 25, was selected in the 35th round of the 2019 draft out of the University of California-San Diego.
He made 16 appearances for rookie-league Burlington in 2019, posting a 1-2 record and 0.94 ERA. After COVID-19 shut down the 2020 minor-league season, the right-hander returned to pitch for High-A Quad Cities in 2021, posting a 1-0 record with a 3.19 ERA before an elbow injury forced him into season-ending surgery.
With the help of Driveline Baseball over the past few years, Jonah has improved his fastball velocity from 89-92 in college to 93-94 mph with the Royals.
“The biggest key for him is throwing strikes because as the stuff ramped up, the sloppy walks happen,” Jerry said, scouting his son. “He racks up a lot of strikeouts. He’s got a good breaking ball, and they’ve done a lot with his fastball.”
Servais had the same smile talking about Jonah. It was like seeing a nephew on the mound.
“I’ve known Jonah for a long time,” he said. “I gave him a big hug when he came into the ballpark today when I saw him down by their bullpen. I was hoping he’d get in there. I’m glad he did. It’s a big moment.”
But it didn’t seem too big for Jonah, who looked like he fit in.
“I’m really proud of him,” Jerry said with his voice cracking. “It’s hard to imagine remaining composed in that situation. When you know you’re pitching against your dad’s team. It was hard for me to pitch in my first big-league spring-training game, period. For him to do it in this scenario, it’s a special thing. It’s something I will never forget.”