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

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Two years after Chuck Noll’s death, University of Pittsburgh Press prepares to publish the first definitive biography of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach. Pittsburgh Magazine is proud to share an interview with author Michael MacCambridge and an exclusive excerpt of “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work,” scheduled for release in October.
The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

Renovation is under way at nearly all of our area colleges and universities. For students heading back to school this fall — and their parents — we offer this crash course on the highlights of these projects and their projected benefits.
Fall Fashion: In the Black

Fall Fashion: In the Black

The little black dress, and shirt, and pants, never go out of style. Add mystery to your wardrobe with these easy-to-accent autumn staples.
Apteka: A Taste of Home

Apteka: A Taste of Home

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski bring top-notch vegan, eastern European cuisine to Bloomfield.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

In its 225th year, the reference book on weather suggests we tune up our snow-removal equipment.
Chris Jamison Releases His First EP

Chris Jamison Releases His First EP

The Ross native finished third on NBC's “The Voice” in December of 2014.
Up Close Photo Gallery: 10 New Perspectives of Pittsburgh

Up Close Photo Gallery: 10 New Perspectives of Pittsburgh

Zoom in on the places that make our region so fascinating and diverse.
 You Now Can Purchase Wine at a Pennsylvania Grocery Store

You Now Can Purchase Wine at a Pennsylvania Grocery Store

The Giant Eagle Market District in Robinson becomes the first store in the state to offer direct-to-consumer wine sales.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our 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

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Two years after Chuck Noll’s death, University of Pittsburgh Press prepares to publish the first definitive biography of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach. Pittsburgh Magazine is proud to share an interview with author Michael MacCambridge and an exclusive excerpt of “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work,” scheduled for release in October.
The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

Renovation is under way at nearly all of our area colleges and universities. For students heading back to school this fall — and their parents — we offer this crash course on the highlights of these projects and their projected benefits.
Fall Fashion: In the Black

Fall Fashion: In the Black

The little black dress, and shirt, and pants, never go out of style. Add mystery to your wardrobe with these easy-to-accent autumn staples.
Apteka: A Taste of Home

Apteka: A Taste of Home

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski bring top-notch vegan, eastern European cuisine to Bloomfield.
Talk of The Tahn: City of Beer

Talk of The Tahn: City of Beer

There are plans afoot for a international museum of beer to be built and staffed right here in Pittsburgh.
Pitt vs Penn State: Resumption of Hostilities

Pitt vs Penn State: Resumption of Hostilities

After an extended hiatus, the storied rivalry between the Pitt Panthers and Penn State Nittany Lions returns in September to Heinz Field.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

In its 225th year, the reference book on weather suggests we tune up our snow-removal equipment.

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
See How Pittsburgh Chefs Are Giving Back

See How Pittsburgh Chefs Are Giving Back

Some of the city's top chefs and bartenders are organizing events to raise awareness about food waste and hate crimes in our community.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Comic Shops in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Comic Shops in Pittsburgh

These comic book shops offer more than just your casual Batman or Spider-Man choices.

Comments


New Industry Public House Location Up to Par

New Industry Public House Location Up to Par

If you’re in need of a dining option that’s not a national chain while visiting the Robinson area, this is one to keep in mind.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Le'Veon Bell Talks The Talk But Can’t Walk The Walk

Le'Veon Bell Talks The Talk But Can’t Walk The Walk

The Steelers running back emphasized his latest suspension resulted from missed random drug tests, and not a relapse into the marijuana-induced haze that got him jammed up last season. But if you lack the maturity to grasp the consequences of your actions (or, in this case, inactions), does it really matter?

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Custom Made: The Surmesur Suit

Custom Made: The Surmesur Suit

Straight out of Canada, the custom menswear store opens its first U.S. location in Pittsburgh.

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.
Hipsters in Iraq, Cops and Robbers in the Old West

Hipsters in Iraq, Cops and Robbers in the Old West

Reviews of "War Dogs" and "Hell or High Water," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Lucky Ones: Katie Doré and John Potter

The Lucky Ones: Katie Doré and John Potter

Want even more Real Pittsburgh Weddings? We'll be bringing them to you throughout the fall, beginning with this lovely and lucky couple.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Put a Lid On It! The Container Store Coming to Pittsburgh

Put a Lid On It! The Container Store Coming to Pittsburgh

The store famous for carrying storage and organizational products is set to open at the revamped Block Northway in Ross Township.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Two Events Planned for Prospective Waynesburg Students

Two Events Planned for Prospective Waynesburg Students

A fall visitation day and a Saturday information session aim to allow interested students a look into life at the university.

Comments