Jul 09, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
The long and winding path taken by the Grilli family, father and son, through professional baseball, spanning two generations, has reached a new and surprising destination.
Jason Grilli, at 36 and enjoying a career season as the closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates, has earned his first trip to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, set for next Tuesday night at Citi Field in Queens, home field of the New York Mets.
From the time he was drafted by the New York Yankees in 1994, Grilli has embodied the term journeyman, making his way through 10 different organizations before finally achieving success (and a nickname, Grilled Cheese) trying to end Pittsburgh’s long stretch of 20 consecutive losing seasons.
It’s ironic that Grilli, a Baker High School graduate, would get to the All-Star Game this year, when his alma mater won its first-ever state championship and in the same year where Cicero-North Syracuse graduate Patrick Corbin, 13 years his junior, earned an All-Star bid as the pitching ace of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Also, it caps a journey begun by Grilli’s father, Steve, also a pitcher, who spent parts of four seasons in the Major League in the late 1970s with the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays, appearing in just 70 games.
Steve Grilli retired at age 32, returning to Syracuse and running the Change of Pace Sports Bar on Grant Boulevard, not far from NBT Bank Stadium, and watching his son, who was born in Michigan while Steve was with the Tigers, take his own shot at the big time.
After starring at Baker, Grilli opted not to join the Yankees organization following the ’94 draft, instead going to Seton Hall University in New Jersey, where he starred for three years.
Back in the draft again in 1997, Grilli gained the fourth overall selection from the San Francisco Giants, but struggled in the minors over the next two seasons, reaching Triple A but not quite earning a promotion to the big club.
This led to the first of numerous trades for Grilli, as in 1999 he was sent to the Florida (now Miami) Marlins in the Livan Hernandez deal. He made his Major League debut with the Marlins May 11, 2000, winning that game. He made six starts in 2001, going 2-2.
Put into the Rule 5 Draft in 2003, Grilli saw the Chicago White Sox snap him up, and in 2004 he was back in the big leagues, making eight starts and going 2-3, but the White Sox would release him, too.
Now Grilli got a chance with the team that drafted his father, going to Detroit in 2005 after helping the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens clinch the International League championship.
And it was in Detroit that two important things happened. First, Grilli made the transition from a starting pitcher to relief. Second, in that new role he appeared in 51 games in 2006, again with a 2-3, but helping the Tigers make it all the way to the World Series before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Switching from a curveball to a slider as his top pitch, Grilli made 57 appearances in 2007 in Detroit, but was traded again early the next season, this time to the Colorado Rockies, where he lasted just one year before getting purchased by the Texas Rangers.
It looked over for Grilli in 2010. He had gained free agency and signed with the Cleveland Indians, only to injure his knee in spring training and miss the entire season.
Somehow, Grilli kept going, latching on to the Philadelphia Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate, Lehigh Valley, early in 2011, only to go across the state to Pittsburgh in July of that year to sign yet another minor-league contract.
At 34, Grilli made it back to the big leagues in 2012 and, with the Pirates, made 64 appearances, mainly as a set-up man. Though his record was 1-6, he held 32 leads and struck out 13.9 batters per nine innings, fourth-best in the National League.
Moved to the closer’s role at the start of 2013, Grilli played a key role in Pittsburgh’s ascension to first place in the National League Central. He converted 28 of his first 29 save opportunities, struck out 60 batters in 37 2/3 innings and has posted a 2.15 earned run average.
Grilli joins three Pirates teammates – Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Jeff Locke – on the National League squad, the most Pirates in an All-Star Game since 1981.