Fowles: It’s Grilled Cheese Time: Getting to know Jason Grilli

OK, I’ll do what I’ve always done. I’ll ride the wave where it takes meI got knocked off the horse, but I’m gonna dust myself off and keep doing what I do best.

-Jason Grilli, Player’s Tribune

Every time the Blue Jays acquire a new player, my immediate instinct is to do two very important Google searches. The first is to find out whether or not the player in question has ever committed a crime (hey, it’s becoming a real fan issue in professional sports,) and the second is whether or not he has a pet. In the case of our recently required reliever and brand new hope Jason Grilli, the answers are “nope,” and “yes, an adorable dog named Glover,” respectively.

I’m one of those fans who can find it hard to cheer for a player I know too little about. Just because he’s in my team’s blue and white jersey, doesn’t mean I’m default invested. I enjoy personalities, and subsequently mine for details that will endear him to me every time he takes the field—what kind of music he likes, the initiatives he cares about, where he came from, and what adorable things he’s said or done. That lengthy moment Grilli took last night to tie his shoes and catch his breath was certainly a start, but I wanted more, and went down an Internet rabbit hole to get it.

Born in a Detroit suburb and into a baseball family in 1977, Grilli is the son of former pitcher Stephen Grilli, whose last appearance in the major leagues was actually at Exhibition Stadium for Toronto in 1979. Grilli has said that his favourite team growing up was our Blue Jays, and that he talks to his dad every time he makes an appearance on the mound. “Having my father play in the big leagues was definitely an advantage growing up,” he told MLB.com in 2006.  “Being my Little League coach, he’d come sometimes in a suit and tie, coming from work, and throw us batting practice. It was special, having a father that cared so much, having something in common.” (Here’s a cute 2014 video of Steve talking about his son.)

In 1997, Grilli was drafted fourth overall by San Francisco, and has since played for a whopping eleven teams in the close to two decades he’s been playing baseball professionally. He certainly qualifies as an experienced veteran, an Italian-American All-Star who has more than once pitched for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Though he helped the Tigers get to the World Series in 2006, the following season saw fans booing him when his home ERA hit 7.96. From there he went to the Rockies, the Rangers, the Indians, the Phillies, the Pirates, and the Angels, until he was ultimately acquired by Toronto from the Braves on May 31.

But who, exactly, is this shaggy-haired, 6’5”, 235-pound man with the official nickname “Grilled Cheese?” For a few more personal, humanizing details, my first stop was Grilli’s social media presence, which is littered with inspirational statements (“Remember to always appreciate the little things in life that bring you happiness”) and Star Wars references. (Which will give him and RA Dickey something to chat about, for sure.) It’s likely worth noting here that when he was with the 2015 Braves, the team released one of the more niche bobbleheads I’ve ever encountered—the Jason Grilli Star Wars X-Wing Fighter.

The father of two’s Twitter bio boldly proclaims he loves “Baseball, Business, Pearl Jam & Laughing ‘Till I Cry,” and after hearing his Pearl Jam walk up music last night, I was curious to know if he’d ever met the band. Lo and behold, there’s a video of him, in sneakers and dad jeans, getting deliriously down on stage with Eddie Vedder in Pittsburg in 2013, and a very teenage “epic” cell phone shot of the band’s set list from their recent Madison Square Garden show.

When Grilli was new to the Angels’ bullpen in 2014, he appeared on the show Intentional Talk, and surprised hosts by being close to completely naked under his coat. (They appear grateful for the jock strap, which after some further digging, appears to be one of Grilli’s favourite parts of the uniform.) During that interview he also revealed the lovely gem that he ran into the guy he got traded for in the airport bathroom, and wished him the best of luck while his replacement was using the facilities.

During this year’s National Grilled Cheese Month (which is April, by the way) Grilli awarded prizes to fans with the best “Grilli Cheese” recipes. He’s also been a member of the Feeding America Entertainment Council for the last two years, promoting “a nationwide network of food banks (that) provide more than 3.6 billion meals to virtually every community in the United States through food pantries and meal programs.” His charitable initiatives also include “Let’s Strike Out Cancer,” and it appears he founded a business called Perfect Pitch Marketing group, which admittedly I haven’t exactly figured out the purpose of yet. Grilli is also a devoted Christian, stating, “Jesus Christ is my backbone, not my crutch.” (As a complete aside, this Grilli informational journey allowed me to discover there was such a thing called Baseball Chapel, which is kind of fascinating in itself.)

Grilli joins the list of pitchers who have written a book about their “journey,” one that for him has included a list of devastating injuries that he calls “pitching mortalities, the reality that accompanies the recovery process of elbow surgery.”

The book in question, Just My Game, didn’t exactly get the best reviews when it was released in 2014, and was rather viciously called “hilariously narcissistic” by SB Nation. He’s appeared a handful of times in The Players Tribune, where he’s detailed his comeback from last July’s season ending Achilles injury, talked about what it means to face your friends on the mound, let us know how much he loves olives and the city of Pittsburgh, and that if he wasn’t in baseball, he would like to be a professional racecar driver.

Given our recent bullpen fears and woes, Grilli is a nice, experienced addition that comes without a great deal of risk. There are certainly concerns that he hasn’t been performing as of late, many of which have been attributed to his recovery from the most recent in a list of debilitating injuries. And while my Google deep dive doesn’t necessarily act as a performance indicator, he’s certainly high energy, fun, and irreverent, which is a likable combination for fans looking for something to love in later innings.

On that note, I’ll leave you with the words of the man himself. “Grilled cheese and Pearl Jam. If that doesn’t get you pumped, you don’t have a pulse.”

  • Barry

    The roller coaster of dog emotion on this team is incredible.

    First we trade for Astro, then Astro goes to Boston.

    Then we get Clutch … but Clutch’s dad is suspended for 80 games.

    Now Glover. Come on, Glover, have staying power.

    Also, if Dickey and Grilli are both Star Wars geeks, they’re going to be out of their minds when they hear we’ve got a LEGO Star Wars fanatic in the minors.

  • DAKINS

    I need to get that Jason Grilli Star Wars X-Wing Fighter.

    Oh, and “he would like to be a professional racecar driver.”

    Come Jason, we have much to discuss….