This magazine article, written by Amanda Hitchner back in July of 2011, was our very first feature on Greg Bird.
Greg Bird Is A Pure HItter
Greg Bird is a threat to windshields and tennis players. He is admired by his teammates for his ability to smack a baseball like Adrian Gonzalez. He is endlessly praised by his coaches for his beautiful swing. And Bird is acknowledged by many as one of the best hitters to come from Colorado.
“He’s probably, and this comes from a lot of different coaches around here, one of the best hitters to ever come out of the state,” Grandview High School head coach Dean Adams said. “He’s just a phenomenal hitter with phenomenal power. It will surprise me if Greg doesn’t get the chance to play in the big leagues with the swing that he has.”
Bird’s hitting capability alone warrants a deal with a professional baseball team, which is why it comes as no surprise that the Yankees snagged the 18-year old as their fifth-round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft.
“It was the best experience,” Bird said of being drafted by the Yankees. “I felt so blessed. It’s hard to explain, but it was exciting for me and my family. And to be selected by an organization like that with so much history and class is really an honor. It was just amazing.”
Prior to being drafted, Bird spent four years playing baseball at Grandview High School in Aurora, Colorado, where he amazed all audiences with his power at the plate.
“It’s just amazing how far he can hit the ball,” recalled Payton Soicher, a rising senior who played centerfield on the Grandview team with Bird. “We had to warn the tennis players. We had the baseball field and about 100 feet after the field was the tennis courts and whenever we’d hit batting practice we would have to tell the tennis players to stop just in case he actually hit one to the point where he could injure one of them.”
In his senior year of high school, Bird managed to post a .591 batting average, racked up 37 RBI and 12 home runs in only 18 games played over the course of the season.
“In baseball terms, he rarely got himself out,” declared Mike Letofsky, assistant varsity coach at Grandview of Bird’s hitting. “He has such a terrific swing and he understood it. He just had such an incredible understanding that high school kids don’t have, generally speaking. It’s hard to learn your swing until you get in college and professional baseball where you’re getting to be around lots of people who understand their swing as well, but this kid just had it.”
“We were playing at this place called Douglas County,” Soicher recalled of another time Bird showcased his outrageous hitting skills. “There’s this highway about 200 feet after the fence and the fence was 350 feet around. Greg managed to hit a car going by on the highway with one of his home runs which was one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen.
“And then in high school our fence was 400 feet, dead center, and there was a car parked behind it and in batting practice Greg said, ‘I hope I don’t hit that car,’ and on the first swing he took, the ball went right through the windshield. It’s scary what he can do at the plate.”
Although Bird proved himself as an outstanding batter, it was not only his prowess at the plate, but behind it that made him a quality prospect. He was drafted by the Yankees as a catcher, but he pretty much split his time evenly between first base and catcher during his senior year of high school. Coach Adams explained that Bird would have been an everyday catcher but issues and injuries on the team made it necessary to move him to first.
“I don’t have a preference,” Bird said about which position he would rather play. “I enjoy both a lot. I always say about catching that it’s a lot of fun just because you’re in on every single pitch. I also think that game calling has helped me in different ways. I try to think of how I would think as a hitter and I think that helps me call games as a catcher. And also, vice versa, it helps me as a hitter when I’m up to bat.”
“Greg is a solid high school catcher and an above-average first baseman,” Letofsky said. “What’s great about Greg is that he just understood the game. He rarely made mistakes that hurt you. Don’t get me wrong, Greg made errors, not very many though. Occasionally he would make a physical mistake, but rarely in the three years that I coached him did he ever make a mental mistake like throwing to the wrong base or calling the wrong cutoff.”
Bird compared himself to Joe Mauer as a catcher and if he was playing first, Adrian Gonzalez. A teammate of Bird’s in the spring was the one to bring up the resemblance to Gonzalez’s swing. Bird correlated his talents with these players not because of their defense so much as their hitting. The left-handed hitter said that he prides himself on hitting the ball to the opposite side of the field towards left, centerfield and staying inside the ball, which is what he sees Mauer and Gonzalez doing with their hitting as well.
With all of the praise that Bird has received about his hitting and his natural ability on the field, it may be easy to wonder if he has any weaknesses. But every player has a weakness and Bird is no exception. Coach Adams revealed that the only weakness Bird seemed to possess was the 6-foot-4, 205-pound player did not run well, but otherwise, his knowledge of the game, hitting, defense and his arm were all in top condition.
“Honestly, the only weakness that Greg Bird might have is that he’s too nice of a guy, if there’s something wrong with that,” stated Letofsky, having nothing but approval for the young man. “He’s just an incredible guy and I’m excited now that he’s done playing for me that I get to be, not his coach anymore, but his friend. I realize that I will always be ‘Coach’ to Greg, but it’s exciting to me that he won’t be Greg Bird, my player; he will be Greg Bird, my friend.”
Bird is playing for Team Vegas in the California Collegiate League for the summer where he has also been splitting his time playing both first and catching. His batting average was around .250 at press time, which is not the outrageous number that he put up in high school, but he has found himself in a more challenging arena. He also admitted to being in a little slump at the end of June, but had the utmost confidence that he was going to turn it around.
“I played fall ball for the coach that I’m playing for now in the Cali League,” explained Bird of what drew him to California. “I think it’s a good fit for me as far as it’s good competition and it’s not as far away from home as somewhere like Florida. The weather in California is beautiful so that’s a big thing too. I just wanted to play somewhere warm and with good competition and this is a perfect fit.”
Having lived in Colorado since he was in the fifth grade, Bird had his fair share of baseball in unpredictable and at times inclement weather. During his freshman or sophomore year of high school he remembered playing a game while it was snowing. Although he enjoyed playing ball in his home state, the spring in Colorado provided challenges throughout the season that California does not have to deal with which made the Cali League so appealing.
The competition aspect of the Cali League was very important to Bird as well and he did not mind that his stats were not as exceptional as those he racked up in high school. Despite the slump and the tougher competition, Bird held his own and was recently voted to the All-Star game to be played in July. His need for competition and growth hints at the dedication to the game that he has displayed throughout his baseball career.
“His work ethic is second to none,” Letofsky said. “He came back to the high school a couple weeks ago and he got on the batting tee. Some of our younger players were playing a game and Greg was in the batting cage all by himself. Here’s a guy whose swing is pretty dog-gone perfect and he’s working on it because he wants to get it better than that.”
“There are just so many aspects of the game to improve on,” Bird added. “As far as hitting goes, I think that you can always get better at hitting by just working hard, working on your swing, working on the muscle memory, just the day-in and day-out grind of playing baseball.”
Even as an adolescent Bird started grasp the concepts and gain respect for the game. He attributed much of his passion for the game of baseball to John Cronican and Scott Bauer, men who coached him from the time he was 11 until he was 13 years old.
“I remember crying, they’d be yelling at us so much,” said Bird of his little league coaches. “But it helped me, really drove me, and taught me how to take the game seriously.”
Bird’s high school coaches and teammates also had a lot of influence on him to make him the player that he is today. Although Coach Adams and Coach Letofsky would say that he basically helped himself and all they did was guide him along. Bird said that his coaches preached character, growing up and maturing which really helped him.
“He was one of the best leaders,” Soicher said. “If anyone on our team had a problem with the coaches or had a problem with another teammate, he was the guy to go to. He’s very encouraging, always willing to help people. There’s nothing bad you could ever really say about him.”
“Rarely do you find that combination of a kid that’s this good and that’s not a jerk in any ways, shape or form,” Letofsky chimed in. “Never once did he say something bad about a teammate, never once did he question his coaches. Here’s a guy who should have been teaching the rest of his teammates how to hit instead of his coaches teaching him.”
Bird’s humble attitude has taken him a long way. He was never caught up in the hype of being one of the best hitters in the state and he used his talents to give back to the community. This past year he took part in the Sports Made Possible game, a program for children facing physical and/or mental challenges, where he was the “buddy” of a boy named Harrison. Coach Letofsky believed that much of Bird’s great character is due to his parent’s influence on his life.
“I’d say the biggest impact would be my parents,” Bird said. “My dad never really coached me, he had never even played baseball actually, but they have always been there to support me throughout my life and I think that’s been the key to my success so far. I think they’ve always been the heart and soul of it.”
“Getting to throw batting practice to a potential professional baseball player and a kid that could potentially be in the major leagues someday, those are lifelong dreams that coaches have,” Letofsky said. “And every time that I got done throwing to him, for three years, he would say, ‘Thanks Coach.’ And the day that he got drafted by my favorite team, the New York Yankees, for him to call me and thank me, it says a lot about the kid. He’s one of a kind.”
Bird’s humility seems to have brought him quite a bit of good karma. He has had many opportunities to showcase his talent including the Under Armour game that he took part in last summer which he recalled as his best moment in his baseball career.
“I would say the Under Armour game just because it was played at Wrigley Field,” Bird said of his favorite baseball moment. “Just knowing that you’re on the same field that Babe Ruth has played on and just all the great players seem to have played there since it’s so old. Realizing that I was on the same field as them and having shared that with such great players in baseball history was awesome. That was truly a great experience.”
Although the Under Armour game is a cherished moment for Bird, getting drafted is also a major moment in his life. And although his parents, coaches, teammates and of course Bird himself are very excited about being drafted, he has still not come to the conclusion of whether he wants to jump feet first into his career with the Yankees or if he wants to go to college first. He said that the decision will probably come right down to the deadline, which is in mid-August.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Bird said of his options. “A pro of going to school is that you get three years of education under your belt which is always good. A pro of playing professional baseball, I mean it’s always been my dream and my goal to do that.”
His college of choice is the University of Arkansas where he signed to play ball while he was still in high school. He said after growing up in Tennessee, where he resided before his family moved to Colorado, he wanted to return to the south for school. Another big appeal to Arkansas was to play in the SEC. He said that between the baseball program, the coaches and the campus, it was just the right fit for him.
If Bird does choose to go to the pros instead of attending college, he is going to get mixed reactions from his high school coaches. Coach Letofsky has been a diehard Yankees fan for his entire life, whereas Coach Adams feels the exact opposite about the Yankees and referred to himself as a hometown guy who pulls for the Colorado Rockies.
“I’ll be honest,” Adams started, “I was excited as all get out for Greg and I still am. I do know that if he makes it up to the big leagues I will get a Greg Bird Yankees jersey and when he comes up to bat I will put on the Yankee hat, but the minute he’s done hitting the jersey and hat are coming off. I can’t stand the Yankees, but I’m delighted for him.”
Although Bird is still debating on where he will be when fall comes around, he is excited to be given the opportunity to get out on the field. He exudes baseball in every way and his pure love of the game is evident.
“If I do choose to go to the Yankees, I think I’m most looking forward to just playing every day,” Bird said, “and just starting my professional baseball career if that’s what I decide to do. It’s always been my dream and I think that would be the coolest part, just getting out, going, and doing it. That would be amazing.”