Results tagged ‘ Jason Grilli ’

Baseball, fathers and Cooperstown

By Bill Francis

The father-son bond in baseball undoubtedly goes back to the sport’s beginnings and continues to thrive, whether that entails playing catch in the front yard, attending a game together, or debating the travails of a favorite team.

With Father’s Day just around the corner, that special relationship was in evidence with a trio of minor leaguers who visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Wednesday afternoon.

Throughout major league history, there have been slightly more than 200 players whose father also spent time in The Show. Included in this unique group are infielder Josh Barfield, outfielder John Mayberry Jr. and pitcher Jason Grilli – all current members of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, who visited Cooperstown.

For Josh Barfield, a big leaguer from 2006-09, his father Jesse – a 12-year major league right fielder with the Blue Jays and Yankees who led the American League with 40 home runs in 1986 – was the main reason he chose to pursue baseball as a career.

“He’s the reason that I play,” Josh Barfield said. “I loved watching him. He was always my hero, my favorite player growing up. He’s why I play, he’s the reason I am who I am as a person, so it’s cool that he gets to see me play now.

“I think we (teammates Mayberry Jr. and Grilli) all have that unique situation of growing up around the game, which is pretty special. I was at the field every day, and for me it was fun. You get to go and watch the game that you love, you get to be around your buddies, so it was a lot of fun for me.”

So what are Josh Barfield’s plans on Sunday?

“I talk to him every day,” he said, “but Father’s Day is special just because it’s a time to just say: ‘Thank you for what you’ve done.’”

John Mayberry Jr. has spent parts of the last three seasons with the Phillies, following in the footsteps of his father, a first baseman who clubbed 255 homers over 15 major league seasons spent with four different clubs.

“I grew up around the game and I’ve always loved it, so it’s a dream come true for me to be able to play,” John Mayberry Jr. said. “It was great to get a firsthand glimpse of what big league life is all about.”

It’s connections like these that will be celebrated on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown. Tickets for the annual Father’s Day legends game are available this week at the Hall of Fame and on Sunday at Doubleday Field.

As for his relationship with his father, John Mayberry Jr. said: “My dad and I are in pretty consistent contact, but I’m guessing it’s no different than any other close father-son relationship.”

Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

A pitch for Cooperstown

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

During a May 29 visit to Syracuse to catch a Syracuse Chiefs home game at Alliance Bank Stadium, I ran into former big league pitcher Steve Grilli. Though fireballing phenom Stephen Strasburg was pitching that night, Grilli seemed more excited about the news he had recently received.

06-17-10-Francis_Grilli.jpg“I just got my invitation to play in this year’s Hall of Fame Classic,” a smiling Grilli said. “If I didn’t, I was going to beg to go back because I had such a wonderful time with my family there last year. It’s a great weekend. I just think Cooperstown is a Norman Rockwell city. You can’t help but have a good time over there.”

Grilli, who calls Syracuse home now, pitched for the Chiefs for four seasons (1978-81) and broadcasts their games on TV and radio. A frequent visitor to Cooperstown over the years, he pitched a scoreless fifth inning to help Team Wagner to a 5-4 win over Team Collins in last year’s Hall of Fame Classic at historic Doubleday Field.  

“I can always say I relieved Bob Feller, which I did last year,” said Grilli, referring to the Hall of Fame hurler. “I was on the same team with Bob and I was one of the relievers that relieved him, so I can always say I pitched with Bob Feller.”

Grilli admits to enjoying the change in format from the previous Hall of Fame Game, in which two big league teams played.

“I think this new way of doing it is exciting because you’re getting to see the Hall of Famers, and the guys that I played with that are in the Hall of Fame had a ball, as well as some of us serviceable players like myself,” said Grilli, the father of major league pitcher Jason Grilli. “I got to ride in the parade with my grandson and rub shoulders with some of the better players who have ever come through the game.”

Grilli finished his four-year big league career (1975-77, 1979), spent mostly with the Detroit Tigers, with a record of 4-3. His claim to fame is as the losing pitcher in the longest game in professional baseball history, a 33-inning International League contest in 1981 that saw Pawtucket come away with a 3-2 win over Rochester.

06-17-10-Francis_GrilliPitch.jpgWhen asked about Strasburg, the Syracuse pitcher we were both waiting to see this night, Grilli had only high praise.

“What I’m most impressed with is his breaking stuff. There are guys in the big leagues that throw 96, 97, 98, this kid was two other really well developed pitches to go along with that 98 mile per hour fastball,” Grilli said. “He pitches at 96, 97, he’ll touch 98, 99, 100 when he has to, but his breaking ball is devastating. I was comparing it to Kerry Wood breaking ball when he struck out the 20 or the Nolan Ryan type of curveball. It’s hard and it’s sharp.”

Grilli referred to a former teammate when asked what it had been like to witness in person all of Strasburg’s Syracuse starts.

“It’s something I can only compare to one thing and that was Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych. I was part of that club when Mark broke in with Detroit when he went 19-9 in his rookie season (1976),” Grilli said. “This kid’s got that same kind of electricity. And the attention he’s drawn in this town is something I’ve never seen.”

With Cooperstown only 60 miles from Syracuse, could Grilli see Strasburg with his own plaque in the National Baseball Hall of Fame one day?

“He has the stuff to be a Hall of Famer some day if he continues to throw as he has.”

Bill Francis is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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