Q+A: Jason Grilli

Pirates closer Jason Grilli talks marketing, aggression and grilled cheese.




Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Pirates
 

 

The jubilant fist pump that Jason Grilli uses to punctuate his saves isn’t simply an expression of joy. It’s also a symbol of his perseverance and success at a job he’s always believed he could do.

The Pirates closer has been fighting since he made his big-league debut in 2000, clawing his way to the back of the bullpen. Grilli also struggled through injuries so devastating that he began to lay the foundation for life after baseball.

Now, the 36-year-old is striking out opponents at a staggering clip and racking up save numbers that rank among the best closers in the game. This comes less than two years after the Philadelphia Phillies couldn’t find a spot for him on their roster.

Philadelphia’s oversight led to Grilli’s signing with Pittsburgh in July 2011; he re-upped during the past offseason to stay with a manager who’s been a mentor for him and an organization he believes has potential to become a consistent winner. He’s also become a fan favorite at PNC Park, in part for his frequent interactions with his 40,000-plus Twitter followers — and also for a last name that lends itself to sandwich puns.

Even though his role has changed from somewhat-anonymous setup man last season to the Bucs’ big name in the ninth inning this year, Grilli will stay true to his on-the-mound philosophy: Put the pressure on opposing hitters, and play the game on your own terms.
 

You’ve had several roles throughout your career. Has being named the closer changed your mindset?  
No, I’ve always been aggressive. My style hasn’t changed; my mentality hasn’t changed. The only thing that’s changed is the inning I’m pitching in.

What made you decide to re-sign with the Pirates this past winter?  
Mainly, Clint Hurdle [has] really supported me in my career; [he] gave me every opportunity. My teammates, for sure. The fans. Pitching at PNC Park. Being a free agent, I had a few good teams that were also pursuing me — and there was nothing better than everything [here in Pittsburgh].

What makes the environment here so exceptional?  
It’s one of the most beautiful ballparks in all of baseball, for one. The weight room is unbelievable, our clubhouse is unbelievable. The kitchen and the chef. And more important than the materialistic side of it — the guys [who] are in the room.

How has the team changed since your arrival?  
The Pittsburgh organization was in development mode. Now it’s just [in] winning mode. I’ve been here since July 2011, and I can see the core of players that they’re keeping here and building a team around. Bringing in guys like Barmie [Clint Barmes] and A.J. [Burnett] and some of those guys [with] veteran experience. The signing of Russell Martin was huge this year. But when you keep the core guys like Pedro [Alvarez] and [Neil] Walker and [Andrew] McCutchen, you see what they’re building around. The talent and the depth of this organization is amazing. I’ve been telling people it’s a really exciting time to be a Pittsburgh Pirate.

You have an unusual side business for a ball player. What is Wild Pitch Marketing, and how does it fit into your baseball life?  
[In light of] my injuries, I have a backup plan for life after baseball. I went to school for marketing. I started dabbling on the Internet, learning about social media and taking courses. I always wanted to have a marketing firm. I’m kind of building the blocks now, just like in the minor leagues. In my free moments, I talk to people and get some lessons and learn what it takes to run a successful business and company online — which is pretty in-depth.

You mentioned social media. You’re pretty active on Twitter (@GrillCheese49). Why is that interaction a priority for you?  
It just shows you’re a real person. You can’t get to all the fans, [but] they want to get up close and personal. I try to reach out, especially to the kids.

Who’s the best tweeter on the team?  
I used to tweet the most — but [Mark] Melancon, he’s a newbie, and sometimes when you have a new toy … [laughs] A.J.’s pretty good, and I know he tweets a lot. Twitter is funny because it’s all about how you feel that day. I try to put something [out there] that’s of substance. But [with] a lot of followers, I can’t answer everybody’s questions, you know? I’d be on there all day.

What do you think of the entrance video they play for you at PNC Park?  
I picked the song. [“Whipping” by Pearl Jam] I love it. They made me look pretty dominant, so I like it. And there’s a little humor in there, too, with the grilled cheese stuff. So if that’s what people gravitate toward, and that’s where some of my identity lies, then it’s working. It’s working, I’ll just say that.

Your strikeout rate spiked throughout the last two seasons. How do you explain the boost?  
Being aggressive. I guess the title of my book would be Behind the Fist Pump [because] there’s a lot behind it. I’m not showing you up — I’m just fired up. I’m out to get you. I’m out to win. But [it’s] everything that I’ve been through, too.

What are you thinking as you leave the bullpen and head for the mound?  
I know that I’m not going to do it passively. If I’m going to get beat, I’d rather a guy beat me with a 600-foot blast than a guy hitting a squibber off me. I’m going to be aggressive, and that’s the way it is. If I’m getting ahead, I’m getting you out.

 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
Top Dentists 2016

Top Dentists 2016

The Pittsburgh region's 368 premier dentists across 8 specialties.
The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

Plus - we poll dentists included in our 2016 list of topDentists for their opinions and tips gleaned from years of experience in their profession.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

The longtime Pittsburgh television personality had been suffering from liver cancer.
Ladies Night: W Bowl Championship Football Game Comes to Pittsburgh

Ladies Night: W Bowl Championship Football Game Comes to Pittsburgh

Co-owned by Franco Harris, the W Bowl brings together players from across the Women’s Football Alliance in a fierce competition.
Pittsburgh Health & Fitness Start-Up Expands Nationwide

Pittsburgh Health & Fitness Start-Up Expands Nationwide

For more than a year, Fitt has helped Pittsburghers discover new, local ways to exercise and eat healthy. Now, the ‘Burgh-based start-up is expanding its reach to a dozen new cities.
Young Pirate Fan Star of the Show in Pirates' Marathon Win

Young Pirate Fan Star of the Show in Pirates' Marathon Win

Starling Marte's homer in the 18th inning beat the Washington Nationals Sunday but we wonder if the game's real MVP was actually in the stands.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
Top Dentists 2016

Top Dentists 2016

The Pittsburgh region's 368 premier dentists across 8 specialties.
Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

The first crop of chefs in the Strip District restaurant incubator are four real.
The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

Plus - we poll dentists included in our 2016 list of topDentists for their opinions and tips gleaned from years of experience in their profession.
A Clear Head, A Cannon for an Arm

A Clear Head, A Cannon for an Arm

After his first taste of big-league ball, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Tyler Glasnow is ready for his close-up.
Edit Module

 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

The longtime Pittsburgh television personality had been suffering from liver cancer.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
A Thyme and Place

A Thyme and Place

Old friends Tricia Cohen and Lisa Graves reconnect via Facebook and collaborate on a historical cookbook.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


After Dark Hall of Fame: Sharp Edge

After Dark Hall of Fame: Sharp Edge

The local pubs that fly the Sharp Edge banner remain a favorite for top-notch beer and tantalizing grub.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Up-and-Down Bucs Survive First Half With Hope Intact

Up-and-Down Bucs Survive First Half With Hope Intact

The Pirates did just enough in the days before the All-Star break to embrace the second half of the season with anticipation if not expectation.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Sanuk’s Yoga Sling Sandal are super comfy yet chic.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

Reviews of "Ghostbusters" and "The Infiltrator," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Perfect Shot: Wedding Photographers’ Favorite Moments

The Perfect Shot: Wedding Photographers’ Favorite Moments

We asked these Pittsburgh wedding photographers to share some of their most-memorable photos — and the stories behind them.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Ten Thousand Villages Celebrates Grand Reopening

Ten Thousand Villages Celebrates Grand Reopening

The new, larger location in Squirrel Hill features an expanded selection of handcrafted merchandise.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

The university landed in the top 10 schools for disabled students seeking an online education.

Comments