- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
You meet the most interesting people playing minor-league baseball.
Like three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who shook up the Binghamton Rumble Ponies' world recently while on a rehab assignment with the New York Mets' Double-A affiliate.
Scherzer, working his way back from an oblique injury, parachuted in for a couple of starts, giving Hanover's David Griffin a chance to rub elbows (figuratively speaking) with a guy at the very top of their shared profession.
"I talked to him a little bit before batting practice," said Griffin, now in his second season as a Mets' minor leaguer. "He's one of those guys who, once batting practice starts, he puts headphones in (and he's locked in). We were told, 'Don't talk to him (after that) unless he speaks to you. If he talks to you about something, talk about that subject, don't go off the rails (on another topic).'
"Beforehand, he was just a regular guy in the locker room. He got there early because he wanted to get settled in. He was talking with us, messing around like he was a normal guy in the clubhouse. Cool guy to be around. The second rehab start with us, he bought us a $7,000 (postgame) dinner from Fleming's Steakhouse in Hartford, so we had filet mignon, lobster mac and cheese, chicken, fish."
Scherzer also gifted each of his temporary teammates with AirPods Pro wireless earbuds. At about $170 a pop, it was an expensive detour to the minors for the 37-year-old, who -- we must point out -- is making $43 million a year on his new deal, so ... yeah, maybe it was more like pocket change to him.
Anyway, Scherzer's largesse means that Griffin, a 6-foot right-hander, will take away at least one nice souvenir from the 2022 campaign. It also gives him a cool story to tell when he's back home in Hanover, as he was this week, as the minor leagues joined MLB in breaking for the All-Star Game.
Griffin, who turned 26, last Saturday, has had an eventful season, highlighted by a recent brief call-up to Triple-A Syracuse. For a kid who logged just one year of varsity baseball at Hanover High (he missed his junior season recovering from a broken leg suffered playing basketball), went undrafted out of Division III Curry College and toiled in the independent minor leagues for three years before the Mets signed him in June of last year, getting one rung on the ladder away from the big leagues was quite a thrill.
Now, his small-sample-size results with Syracuse were spotty -- 0-2 with a 12.86 ERA, allowing 10 runs on 14 hits over 7 innings -- but big steps in minor-league baseball are a big adjustment.
"It's definitely a nice feeling saying, 'Hey, I got that far,' but right now, it was just kind of a cup of tea," Griffin said of his promotion to Triple-A, which lasted from July 2-10. "It just happened that I was the most available pitcher at the time (they needed someone) and I happened to be throwing the ball well, so they trusted me to fill in for a start or two up there. There's still work to be done.
"After getting a chance to compete up there and knowing that I didn't have my best performance, if I'm back up there again, I know I can compete (at that level). It's motivation to want to get back up there. Getting that little taste of what it's like -- and knowing that some of it was good but some of it was sour -- it makes you want more."
If Griffin wants some perspective about how promotions often are a humbling experience, he can look to catcher Francisco Alvarez. Ranked by MLB.com as baseball's No. 2 overall prospect, Alvarez played with Griffin in Single-A Brooklyn last year, made the move with him to Double-A Binghamton this year and got promoted to Syracuse at the same time.
Alvarez, who's only 20, was lights out at Binghamton, hitting .277 with 18 home runs and 47 RBI in 67 games, but he's off to an ice-cold start at Triple-A -- 2 for his first 23.
So, it happens.
Alvarez -- "a happy-go-lucky kid," as Griffin describes him -- seems destined for stardom and won't ever be going back to Binghamton unless it's on a Scherzer-like rehab assignment. Griffin's path to the majors isn't as straightforward, but he did get a pep talk from another catcher of note recently.
James McCann, a nine-year MLB veteran, also was rehabbing in Binghamton (broken hamate bone in his left wrist) and caught Griffin for 3 innings in one game.
"That was really cool," Griffin said. "He was able to give me some pointers after I got done. It was really nice to hear from someone who has the credentials behind the plate. I had good feedback from my coaching staff, who have all had 10-plus years experience in the big leagues, but to get it from the catcher's perspective, another point of view, that's always helpful."
"Don't give hitters (too) much credit," Griffin said, recalling the words of wisdom. "Hitting is still a very hard thing to do. As long as you mix it up in the zone and go from there, guys will get themselves out the majority of the time."
Griffin, who was a combined 5-2 with a 3.57 ERA last season in the minors, got off to a fine start with High-A Brooklyn this season -- 1-0 with a 2.40 ERA, 8 hits and 20 strikeouts in 15 innings. That earned him his initial promotion to Double-A Binghamton, where he's 0-5 with a 6.09 ERA.
"It's definitely been a learning curve, for sure," he said. "This is my first full affiliate season so there are lots of ups and downs. I've been doing a good job of developing a changeup. That was one of the big things the organization wanted me to do. I just have to do a better job of executing my pitches. At these levels (Double-A, Triple-A), even if you make a good pitch, if you miss by a little bit, they'll make you pay. I learned that the hard way in Triple-A and I learned that a few times in Double-A."
Griffin has logged 56 innings already so far this season. He threw just 70.2 in 2021.
"I hit a plateau at one point," he said of the increased workload, "but it goes to show that you really have to take care of yourself, starting with eating and sleeping (right) and arm-care work, lifting weights from time to time. You have to maintain strength. My body feels really good now, better than it did about a month ago. But there's still a lot of season left; we've got two more months of this."
Life in the minors isn't glamorous. Griffin had been on the road for three weeks straight before detouring back home this week, and even his call-up to Triple-A was a rushed affair. He found out the night before and had to get his mom, Laurie, and dad, Dave, to drive him from Hartford, where they had come to see him pitch, to the Rumble Ponies' ballpark in Binghamton so he could fetch his own car to drive himself to Syracuse.
Had Griffin stuck around in Syracuse, he would be preparing for a three-game series this weekend in Worcester against the Red Sox's Triple-A affiliate.
"Oh, yeah, it would have been awesome for that to happen," Griffin said, "but sometimes life doesn't give you the things you want. I've yet to play a Red Sox affiliate in my minor-league career; I've missed every opportunity. When I was at Triple-A, our Double-A team was playing the Portland Sea Dogs. That was tough to see because of course you want to play against your hometown team. But (Binghamton) does play the Sea Dogs in Portland on Labor Day weekend. So hopefully I'll have some family out for that."
This week's mini-vacation in Hanover has been about belatedly celebrating his birthday, doing some golfing and still squeezing in workouts at Atlantic Sports Performance in town. There was also time to breath, to step back and reflect on his baseball journey.
The D3 Baseball Podcast, on which he was a recent guest, put out a list on Twitter of all the former Div. III college players currently playing affiliated baseball. There were only two major leaguers -- both on Tampa Bay -- and 13 guys in Triple-A, including (at the time) Griffin.
That's select company.
"It's nice to talk about it because at times you get so caught up in the moment" that you don't appreciate how far you've come, Griffin said. "One of my buddies just mentioned that, 'Hey, in a 13-month span you went from playing independent ball to Triple-A baseball. Yeah, you might have only been there for two starts, but it's still very impressive.'
"During the season, it's tough (to see the big picture). When you're home right now, you get more appreciation for it. You're so caught up in the moment and trying to develop and get better every day during the season that when you come back here, not everyone has had the experience (you've had), so it's kind of nice to be able to hang your hat on it, but there's still work to be done.
"Just because I made it (to Triple-A) doesn't mean I can (rest on that). Ultimately, the goal is to get to the major leagues. If I'm able to do that, it would be fantastic; it's what I've worked for my whole life. Now I'm just trying to make the most of every opportunity that I can."
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Hanover's David Griffin motivated by brief call-up to Triple-A baseball