“I told the cab driver, just rolling up over the Clemente Bridge and going around the corner, I said, this is my office space,” said Pittsburgh’s new closer Jason Grilli after signing his two-year, $6.75 million contract through 2014 with the Pirates. “This is how I do my best work. There’s sometimes not enough money that can be a good tradeoff to being comfortable and to know what to expect.” Despite leaving money on the table and taking far less than the free agent market offered to stay in Pittsburgh–much to the disliking of Italian Finance Minister Vittorio Grilli, 36-year-old pitcher Jason Grilli remains a Pirate. However, Jason Grilli has earned the right to pitch wherever he chooses after picking up the win in Team Italia’s 10-0 shutout of Australia in the 2006 World Baseball Classic (WBC) and a save in Italy’s 6-2 upset over heavily-favored Canada in the 2009 WBC competition. It goes without saying that the sight of Jason Grilli wearing an Azzurri jersey brings more joy and glory to the near-bankrupt European nation than any Italian politician could ever produce. Yet, politics somehow infiltrated into Italian baseball during the 1996 Olympics. After being invited by the the Italian Baseball Federation to join the country’s Olympic team while playing college ball at Seton Hall, Grilli stood proud and was honored with a parade in his hometown of Syracuse, New York. When joining the team with another Italian American pitcher, they did not receive a warm reception. The other players on the Italian squad that qualified for the Olympics without the two imports threatened a boycott.
Facing an ‘us or them’ ultimatum, the pitchers were dismissed. “I was in tears the whole way home,”
Grilli said. “The good part of it was I got to see Italy, but the worst part of it was it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I didn’t get to play.” Grilli traces his family heritage roots to Florence and Naples. He said, “I’m 75 percent Italian. My last name is every bit as Italian as you can get. The name on the front of the jersey is always more important than the name on the back, but in this case, the two go hand-in-hand.
I wouldn’t have ‘Italia’ on the front if I didn’t have ‘Grilli’ on the back. Obviously, I love the United States. But I’m also proud of my lineage.” “You know, they say the more you hang around Italians, the more Italian you become,”
said Grilli. “And that’s what I am. I’m an Italian,” said the Italian right-hander (il Italiano adopera la mano destra) who reminisced about his experience playing for Team Italia in
the World Baseball Classic. “One day Tommy Lasorda came in to talk to us. It was one of
the greatest speeches I’d ever heard. I wish I’d memorized or recorded it. He talked about the pride that comes with being Italian, with such feeling. It was a great experience.”
Having been invited to attend the 28th Annual Italian Coach Convention in Parma, Italy, Grilli is seriously considering a coaching career in Italy after he retires from Major League Baseball. “I know (former MLB All-Star and Team Italia coach) Mike Piazza has a house
(in Italy), and he goes over for a couple months every year,” Grilli said. “It‘s intriguing.”Selected by the San Francisco Giants in the first round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft (fourth pick overall), Grilli made his MLB debut with the Florida Marlins in 2000 and has made 330 career appearances during his 10 seasons in the big leagues. The Pirates signed Grilli as a free agent on July 21, 2011, and he has posted a 2.76 ERA with 127 strikeouts in 92 appearances over the last two seasons. He hinted at comfort and a heightened sense of excitement for Pittsburgh’s resurgence to Clemente-era dominance as top reasons for re-signing. “I’ve been on 10 different teams,” Grilli said. “The grass is never always greener. It’s really all the same. There’s just something fitting here. It’s just a baseball town and it bugs me as much as it bugs everybody else in this city. They want this so bad.” In 2012 Grilli limited opponents to just one run in 15 of his 64 appearances and struck out at least one hitter in 56 of the 64 games. He set a franchise record for relievers by striking out at least one batter in each of his first 19 appearances in 2012. Although a bull in the pen on the mound, Jason is quite the gentlemen to members of the press. The local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America recently voted Grilli as the winner of the Chuck Tanner Award–an award that recognizes the player who is most cooperative with the media. Jason Grilli wants to bring back the World Series glory days to Pittsburgh. As a proud Italian, he supports MLB’s initiative to foster baseball’s popularity in Italy through the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS)-sponsored MLB Italian Academy and international games like the World Baseball Classic. Grilli said, “I’m in the books in Italian baseball, and that’s good. Major League Baseball wants the game to grow globally, and I’m happy to be a part of that.”