As Jacob deGrom strolled toward the infield, the instructions were made loud and clear to a group of young campers.
Because among the last things the Mets need is a hand injury to their All-Star pitcher from overambitious children. But some probably had sufficient energy to inflict one.
Just more than a week after shutting down the American League All-Star team and two days after beating the Washington Nationals, deGrom was met with the curiosity and awe of 3- to 13-year-olds Thursday at Coleman Country Day Camp in Merrick.
Last year's Rookie of the Year answered their questions, offered pitching tips, posed for photos and gave high-fives (with his non-pitching hand) as the youngsters, most of them clad in Mets apparel, rounded the bases of the camp's baseball field.
"I never would've thought that this would happen, all of these kids looking up to me," deGrom said to reporters between Q & A sessions. "It's nice to be able to come and give back a little bit."
The core of his message was the value of hard work, and to the campers, deGrom was a real-life example of it. After being converted from a shortstop in college, the lanky deGrom had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and didn't make his big-league debut until May of last year.
"I love watching the smile of a camper who gets to ask a question to somebody who might be their hero," camp director Ross Coleman said. "I never got to speak with my baseball heroes growing up and we're providing that today and I'm happy that they're getting to take advantage of it."
And their questions were nothing short of entertaining.
"They ask some tough ones. Gotta be careful with my answers," deGrom said with a smile.
The topics ranged from the fastest pitch he's ever thrown ("99 mph," he said) to what hair products he uses ("whatever's in the Mets' clubhouse") and if he'll ever cut his shoulder-length hair ("one day"). He revealed that he idolized longtime Mets nemesis Chipper Jones and the Atlanta Braves growing up and that former Ward Melville star Steven Matz is one of his best friends on the Mets.
One camper also innocently asked him what it felt like to win the World Series. The answer, obviously, is that he's still striving to experience it.
But the humble deGrom, evidenced by his presence, also is willing to allocate time for a different cause.
"Each year, we try to bring first and foremost a role model to camp," Coleman said. "Jacob is a phenomenal pitcher and an even better person . . . The kids are beyond excited. Even the Yankee fans are Met fans today."
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