Frank Dalton said he’s blessed with a wealth of memories of his grandson, DJ Mitchell, and the beginnings of his love of baseball.
“I found out early in life that baseball was something [DJ] wanted to do and he was good at it,” Dalton, a Walnut Cove resident, said.
On June 30, Mitchell, a former standout pitcher at North Forsyth High School and Clemson University, got called up from the triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees to the New York Yankees for the second time this season. Mitchell saw his first action in the big leagues on May 1 in a home game against the Baltimore Orioles.
“Ever since I was drafted by the Yankees, the goal was to get [to Yankee Stadium],” Mitchell said. “To finally achieve that has been a blessing — it’s been great. It’s everything you hear about. Now I’m here again and hopefully I can build upon what I learned from last time.”
Mitchell gave up 2 hits but no runs in his first major league appearance, coming on in relief in the late stages of a 7-1 loss to the Orioles. Mitchell said he’ll never forget getting the call in the bullpen.
“My jog from the bullpen to the mound — I think that was the most exhilarating feeling I’ve ever had,” Mitchell said. “Once I stepped on the mound and I threw a pitch, it was more like, I’ve been doing this all my life — just ready to get after it.”
Dalton and DJ’s parents were in attendance that night at Yankee Stadium. Dalton said the moment DJ stepped on the mound was truly sublime, and represented the culmination of years of hard work. When DJ notched his first major league strikeout, Dalton said he wasn’t a bit surprised.
“Pressure doesn’t bother him and you can’t play that game if you can’t play under pressure,” he said.
Dalton has a storied history in Stokes County baseball, having coached at every level from T-ball up through the semi-pro ranks. He also played semi-pro baseball and served as a Little League umpire.
Dalton said when DJ was just five years old, he remembers buying him a glove made of Velcro to teach him how to catch pop-ups.
“That’s the way he started,” Dalton said. “All his leisure time, he spent with us when he wasn’t in school. We would go to the Lion’s Park [in Walnut Cove] and it wouldn’t be nobody but him and me. I would keep a bucket of baseballs and I would throw to him until I would give out. We’d come home and rest a while and he’d say, ‘Are you rested Papa? Let’s go back again.’”
Mitchell said he has fond memories of learning the game from his grandfather.
“All through my childhood, I pretty much grew up at home and grew up [at his grandfather’s house] as much as I could,” Mitchell said. “On the weekends, I would always be down [in Walnut Cove]. He’s been playing baseball with me as long as I can remember. He’s been one of those big influences on my life — just life in general and baseball especially.”
Mitchell said his grandfather has always been one of his biggest supporters.
“He’s probably seen as many baseball games as anybody, especially mine,” Mitchell said. “He always makes the effort to get there whether we’re playing in Rural Hall or New York City.”
Earlier this week, Frank Dalton returned to Walnut Cove after a trip to New York City. He had hoped to see his grandson pitch in relief against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday, but alas, DJ didn’t make an appearance. Dalton said he expected his grandson to see action in New York’s contest against the Rays on July 3.
It’s been a season of ups and downs for Mitchell, but it appears things are on the upswing for the talented right-hander.
“I had a good spring — started out well, started the season well and got called up and pitched okay,” Mitchell said. “Then I came back down [to the minors] and around the middle of June I kind of got roughed up a little bit. That was kind of a down point. I finally started to figure some things out towards the end of June and now I’m [back in the major leagues] and hopefully we can keep things going up instead of down.”
One thing is certain — DJ Mitchell has great support from his friends and family in Stokes County. Dalton plans on keeping close tabs on his grandson’s progress and attending more Yankees games this season.
“He’s humble — you can’t help but take an interest in someone who appreciates you helping them,” Dalton said. “And it hasn’t come easy. He’s had to work hard for everything.”