Gridley Gets Off To Fast Freshman Start

He says a private routine is necessary for success. So funny thing, how having a regular regimen prepared Ryan Gridley for an absolutely abnormal moment.

It is also how this true freshman finds himself among the five Diamond Dogs who have hit a home run on the early 2015 season. Even if his ‘shot’ didn’t leave the field. Didn’t get too far from the infield, either.

“I did see the replay, yeah!” says Gridley of his inside-the-park homer hit Saturday, in Mississippi State’s 18-2 victory over Alabama A&M. “I don’t know what else to say about that, just something that will never happen ever again. But I’ll take it!”

As he should. Besides, for all the joy a batter takes in sailing a shot over the wall…an inside-park job is maybe more memorable and certainly more unique.

To set the stage: Mississippi State was blowing the afternoon game open in the second inning, erasing a 1-0 deficit in a big way. Very big, by batting all the way around and then some. Gridley had already come up once himself, second in the inning. That turn, he had been ordered to bunt CF Jacob Robson over as the tying runner. Soon this by-the-book moved was amusing to recall.

Because A&M pitching utterly collapsed with walk, plunking, walk, errored grounder, another walk. The MSU Bulldogs didn’t even register the first base hit until DH Brent Rooker, ninth man to swing in the frame, singled in a pair. Robson’s second turn also produced a base hit and RBI for a 6-1 lead. Then up comes Gridley again.

To be honest, it was not what his coaches call a quality at-bat. In fact, “It was just a bad swing by me to begin with,” Gridley admitted a day later. “With no strikes, first pitch of the at-bat and I swung at a slider out of the zone.”

At least he did make enough contact to lift a fly ball behind second base and a bit right-of-center. The ‘drive’ seemed bound to become a Texas leaguer single until A&M second baseman Julio Nunez made a majestic effort ending with a blind dive and reach. Nunez also blocked most views of the ball, which mattered.

Because Nunez stayed prone on the turf with two outfield teammates right there, just watching. They thought it was a clean catch. Infield umpire Tracy Cheek either disagreed, did not see it well enough to know, whatever. Because he suddenly signaled safe, about the time Gridley was approaching second base.

“You know what, the coaches teach us to run everything out. So I was like, I’d better bust it! And I started running.” Even better Gridley kept running, as had Rooker and Robson who were in the home-plate stretch. With A&M players frozen in place, Gridley just accelerated.

“I never heard anyone say ‘out’ so I was like I might as well keep running then! Then when I saw Coach Mingione pointing me home I was like oh my gosh it must be safe! So I got really lucky.”

Post-game there were differing opinions on whether the ball had really been caught. It didn’t matter. The three-run homer was in the books by then. And however bizarre, this 120-or-so foot ‘shot’ will always read on a stat sheet like a 400-foot blast. Not to mention, as the first home run of a young Diamond Dog career that seems certain to only progress.

After playing in seven of unbeaten Mississippi State’s eight wins, with six starts at second base, Gridley boasts a .529 batting average. That’s nine hits in 17 official chances, and thanks to the IPHR he has eight RBI which is second only today to Rooker’s nine. Even better given his slot and style, Gridley has been scored ten times already. Only Robson has come home more at 15 runs.

Cohen is clearly pleased how his middle-infield signee from Milton, Ga., is delivering in these early Dog days. Even better is how Gridley has approached daily duty as a true freshman.

“The great thing about Ryan is he never tries to do too much,” Cohen said. “And that’s hard to teach your freshmen. He’s just going to put his barrel where he needs to and give himself a chance to hit balls hard every time. That’s a really advanced for a freshman 19 years old to understand.”

It’s worth adding that Gridley has rewarded his coaches in the field too. He’s handled all 31 chances cleanly at second base. Over this past weekend Gridley did get a real workout as Alabama A&M and Marshall both kept bouncing balls his way. Or lining them directly.

Cohen pointed to a “laser” sent Gridley’s way late in Sunday’s tied game with A&M with a runner on base. Most rookies would have rushed the play and maybe set up a bad defensive situation. Gridley stayed with the ball as hit caught him chest-high, covered and flipped back to second base to begin a 4-6-3 double-play.

The very next inning, guess who came up with things still tied 1-1, two outs and Robson on second base after a gutsy steal? Right, Gridley. All he did was fall behind 0-2 before lining a ball over his A&M counterpart.

“He threw me a fastball with two strikes, it was up in the zone. I just tried to keep my barrel flat and drive it.”

Gridley earns credit for how he’s handled these early pressure situations successfully. In turn he credits a private regimen for keeping him relaxed and ready at this young stage.

“I just show up and do my routine every day. That’s what they preach, to have a routine and keep that routine. So when I get to the ball field I make sure I do my routine every single day, so I’m ready for a moment.”

More moments are ahead for Gridley and gang. The Diamond Dogs are due back on the field Tuesday afternoon at 4:00 to play another SWAC squad, Alcorn State. Last week’s Tuesday game was called in advance for weather and other reasons. This one looks to stay on the schedule.

Then there is another four-game weekend ahead. State hosts Arizona in a 6:30 Friday game; then Saturday faces both the Wildcats again (2:00) and Samford (6:30). Sunday is a 4:30 rematch with Samford.

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