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Sunday column: All Grilli needed was belief … and the ball

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

The Sunday column is an extra-length piece on Jason Grilli. My deep thanks to the many parties involved in putting it together, not least of whom was the man himself.

Below is a pic I snapped of Grilli and his youngest of two sons, Jayden, at PNC the other day …


Hope you enjoy reading it half as much as I did writing it.

Here’s the Trib’s full Pirates coverage.

Here’s today’s front page …

And here, for anyone who might have missed it earlier in the week, was the wonderfully spontaneous exchange involving Grilli and Ray Searage

There are a lot of good stories to be had in this business. Only one Grilli.

Author: Dejan Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, a lifelong Pittsburgher, is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media covering the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and, recently, his fourth Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He also appears on WPXI-TV's 'Subway Final Word’ and hosts a weekly show on TribLIVE Radio. For 2011, he was named one of the country's top four columnists by the AP Sports Editors. For 2012, he was named one of the country's top three columnists by the National Headliners. For 2013, he was named the state's top columnist by the Keystone Press Awards and top columnist in Western Pennsylvania by the Golden Quills.


  1. theplanisworking says:

    Amazed to read Saerage claims absolutely no help with Grilli.
    Boils down to attitude and confidence.
    Glad he is here………. kudos to Marc DelPiano for scouting him to get him here.

    Oh, and an IronPig? Sounds like something that is related to me. ;)

  2. pattonbb says:

    If you ask at the end of the year what were our favorite pieces, this one is at the top of my list (so far). I didn’t know DelPiano and Grilli were friends. Really adds a whole new dimension to the story.

    Great stuff, DK.

    DK: Glad you liked it, Patton.

  3. Eric Bowser says:

    Great feature on Grilli.

    DK: Thanks, Eric.

  4. Dave G says:

    Outstanding job, Dejan!

    DK: Thanks, Dave.

  5. Dave G says:

    By the way, Dejan, you are an All-Star yourself!

  6. Nate83 says:

    One of your best columns. Really enjoyed it!!! Hard not to root for a guy like that and he really respects where he is at right now as well as his teammates.

  7. theplanisworking says:

    Oh, forgot to add……….. I was waiting for this to come online early, so I could read it.
    Your work is worth waiting for.

  8. Fish says:

    Great column! One of your best ever!!!!! Just read it once and as soon as I’m done leaving this comment, I will be reading it again……..

    DK: Guess I should thank you twice, then.

  9. diehard says:

    Great column DK.
    “I’m humbled and honored, actually, by everything that’s happened this year” – I think that maybe that’s why this year is different from last year. Or the 19 before that. Heck, I don’t think many guys were saying stuff like that in 1991 and 1992.

    DK: Thanks, DH.

  10. diehard says:

    Plus, the Hurdle/Grilli conversation from Colorado days is very cool. Nice insight into both men.

  11. Ghost says:

    Great read. What a story of perseverance. Left me wanting to read more.
    So I did the next best thing and went to Grilli’s page in Wikipedia. Saw that Jim Leyland stated that Gilli has a “resilient arm,” something we’ve certainly seen with our own eyes. I also surmise that it was during this time in Detroit that Grilli got to know Gary Sheffield. That’s another interesting story in itself.

  12. ken shildt says:


    You are the best! Whether its baseball or hockey the PG or the Tribune, I have enjoyed your writing. You are way beyond game stats and quotes and your analysis and critiques and subject matter are excellent. The Grilli article is heartwarming and a tribute to both you and him. I hope that you will be writing about Grilli and the Pirates in the playoffs and world series soon if not this year.

  13. Ed says:

    People in Pittsburgh should be fortunate to have Dejan. This guy could be writing for the New York Times or some other worldly publication if he wanted to.

    DK: That’s exceedingly kind, but I’ll never know because I’ll never leave Pittsburgh. Can’t picture any job anywhere that would ever be worth your happiness.

  14. Ghost says:

    I like the unintended slap at the provincial Trib. Just kidding! As Bizrow documents, this Blog, at least, has quite the international following. But I completely get what you are really saying and heartily second your sentiment.

  15. Ghost says:


  16. Brendan says:

    Great column. It’s nearly impossible to not pull for Grilli, who is so clearly appreciating every moment he’s been given since arriving in Pittsburgh.

    I think this says a lot about Ray Searage as well:

    “When Jason came to us, I was his friend. That’s all. I believed in him, and I let him know that every day.”

    One of Searage defining characteristics it seems–what’s made him successful in recent years–is that he really understands that you have to treat each guy differently, there’s no one-size fits all approach. He understood who Jason Grilli was and what he needed–someone to believe him and to reiterate that belief every day.

  17. JAL says:

    JAL’s Carrmel Morning Links


    1- MLB Transactions

    2-MLB Trade Rumors-Pirates

    3 Go Buccos- Pirate News (from external sources)

    4 Pittsburgh Pirates Stats

    5 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Pick Signing Tracker

    BLOGS and such

    6—Pirates Prospects

    First Pitch: How Are Last Month’s Promoted Prospects Doing at New Levels?

    Pirates Offense Goes Flat Again in 4-1 Loss to Cubs

    Prospect Watch: Allie Hits a Walk Off HR; Jamestown Scores 29 Runs in a DH

    7 Bucs Dugout

    Punchless Pirates drop one to Cubs, 4-1


    Andrew McCutchen, Jason Grilli, Pedro Alvarez, and Jeff Locke all named to the All-Star team

    9 The Green Weenie

    Soriano Homers Difference In 4-1 Cubbie Win

    10 Rumbunter

    Pirates Baseball: Tired Of The Root Sports Schtick…?

    11 Raise the Jolly Roger

    Pirates get four All-Stars

  18. JAL says:

    NEWSPAPERS and MAGAZINES and Other Media

    12 Chicago Tribune

    Soriano’s home runs carry Cubs,0,5372651.story

    13 NY Daily News

    MLB-best Pittsburgh Pirates are buoyed by plenty of Yankees swagger

    14 Rant Sports

    Pittsburgh Pirates’ Russell Martin Catches On

    15 City of Champions

    Pittsburgh Pirates first half grades for pitching staff

    16 CBS Sports

    Cubs-Pirates Game Preview

    17 Allied News

    RANDOM THOUGHTS: Pirates’ GM has some tough decisions to make

    18 PBC Site

    Pair of homers hurt Morton as road win streak ends

    First-place Bucs earn four All-Star Game nods


    19 Sweetspot

    NL All-Star squad looks much stronger

    20 Fangraphs

    Five Sleeper First Base Prospects

  19. JAL says:

    Caramel Suzanne Vega 1996 off her 5th album, Nine Objects of Desire

  20. kr70 says:

    Grilled cheese in the morning!! only thing better is grilled cheese in the afternoon and evening!

  21. Drew71 says:

    should be?

  22. JoeyBats says:

    …..loved it, DK……thank you.

  23. Drew71 says:

    I like columns that let the story, through its “actors”, tell itself.

    I like columns that avoid easy schmaltz when the tale itself doesn’t need it.

    I like columns that are not about soccer.

    Three for three, Dejan. Well done.

    No, really.

    DK: Well, you’ll want to avoid tomorrow’s column altogether, Drew.

    But thanks for noticing that there was not a single adjective in this piece. That wasn’t unintentional. The closest I came to expressing an actual opinion was to call Grilli baseball’s best story this summer. And I’m not even sure that’s an opinion.

  24. Ditto. Excellent read.

  25. Patrick(RI) says:

    One of his best. And that is not faint praise.

  26. Jim S. says:


    This article is terrific! I love when you go for the human interest angle. You do that as well as any writer in the business. Period. I’m a sucker for it. And, I mean that in a good way.

    As for Grilli, guys like him are a big reason I love baseball. He’s a fighter. I think this sport, maybe more than any other, forces you to be resilient to a degree most of these players never thought they could manage until they actually make it. I think about how many guys throughout a minor league system all want the same thing, and a few rise up and make it simply because they are the ones who refuse to quit. A whole bunch of those guys end up in the bullpen, looking for a shot at closer one day.

    Of course, as a fan I root for the Garret Coles and Andrew McCutchens. Their talent is so easy to see. They separate themselves, and you can’t win in the big leagues without a bunch of them on your team. How do you not envy the talent of McCutchen and Cole? But, I also root for the guys who make it against all odds when only they believed – the guys with that chip on their shoulders. I think the “chip” guys make up about 80% of players.

    Grilli, incidentally, was a Cutch/Cole-type 1st Round guy at first. But, he had a lot of tough injuries to fight through that knocked him down several pegs, several times. Many guys with the 1st round pedigree have not developed the tools to survive those setbacks that the “chip” guys have from day 1. Grilli developed the survival tool. I love it when it works. I love that Grilli fought through it all, and can now take care of his family in a way that seemed nearly impossible when he was a 34 year old Iron Pig.

    Good for you, Jason Grilli! Keep on believing!

  27. Drew71 says:

    The Civic Arena just called.

    It said Well Done, too.

  28. Brotherhood of the Redus says:

    That column was as good as any baseball movie. Perfect Sunday morning stuff DK. Birds chirping, slight breeze, hot coffee, dog at the feet and a solid bucco’s team to go along with the summer haze. Thanks for the read. You are the man.

    DK: Where have you been, Redus?

  29. Arriba Wilver says:


  30. Dadtackular says:

    I like columns about the “Pirates Charities” sign.

  31. Dadtackular says:

    No… Not Really

  32. Thundercrack says:

    When I saw Jeff Locke pitch in Bradenton during Spring Training this past March I meant to post on the blog ” I really think this guy has a chance to make the All-Star team this year”.

    I forgot to post it.
    My wife wouldn’t let me.
    The battery on my cell phone was running low.

    pick one

  33. JAL says:

    Jamestown played a double header yesterday and JaCoby Jones, who just signed a few days ago had 7 hits, 3 RBI, a stolen base, and scored 5 runs in the DH

  34. Drew71 says:

    The battery on my wife is running low, too.

  35. Thundercrack says:

    Can he play right field? Bring him up!

  36. JAL says:

    He can play many positions, including RF

  37. Lad9 says:

    DK – I read a lot. Newspapers, books, magazines, the internet, you name it. I read to learn, to be entertained, and if I am lucky and discerning in who I read, I am occasionally moved. I was today when I read your column. What a great story about a man who has rapidly become one of my favorite athletes of all time. Some of your best work. Dejan, you have a gift. Thank you for sharing it with us. It’s a privilege to read you.

    DK: Thanks, Laddy.

  38. Jim S. says:

    The big concern for Jones was supposed to be that his swing has big issues, and teams stayed away from him because of it. He did not hit all that well in college at LSU given his natural talent. But, the word is his athleticism is off the charts and if the swing can be straightened out he could be a steal. The Bucs gambled on his athleticism and ability to adapt with professional coaching.

    I guess I can see what all the teams that passed on him were thinking. 7 hits in a doubleheader is only as many as Rennie Stennett once got in a nine inning game at Wrigley Field vs.the Cubs. So, JaCoby has work to do.

    Incidentally, my kids and I will be leaving for Wrigley in an hour to help clinch a victory in this series. Go Bucs!

  39. Jim S. says:


  40. Jim S. says:

    Maybe a little Mark-a-aroni as an encore next Sunday?

  41. JRay3 says:

    Great read to wake up to, emotion, human interest and great narrative wrapped into one.

    Capturing the persona, the spirit and fight of Jason Grilli in this article while giving him some of the attention and recognition he has earned and deserves for what he has accomplished with this team makes it so timely.

    This is one of the many great stories of the 2013 Pirates, look forward to reading many more. Thanks.

  42. Drew71 says:

    all this lovin’ and yet i’m afraid i feel a soccer column coming on.

  43. Arriba Wilver says:

    Kind of a funny clip on Deadspin pointed out by Rumbunter in Link #10.

  44. 21sthebest says:

    Does it have a warranty?

  45. Arriba Wilver says:

    No fair. You saw the story about the beheading of the referee in Brazil? To be fair to the crowd, he had stabbed a player.

  46. Thundercrack says:

    That is pretty funny. But sometimes, the questions that Robby Incmikoski asks…he makes me miss Lacee

  47. 21sthebest says:

    I’ll take the soccer column over all this lovin’.

  48. Thundercrack says:

    A few seasons ago (maybe on the old blog that DK hosted) I mentioned that Grilli could possible be a closer for the Bucs in the future.

    I can’t believe that I wasn’t interviewed for this story.

  49. Arriba Wilver says:

    I liked his “don’t touch me” wail, but he kept it together pretty well on camera.

  50. 21sthebest says:

    I loved, “Sir, you’re on television yelling at people.”

  51. 21sthebest says:


  52. HappyG says:

    The Sunday in Anaheim before the game Grilli was signing autographs along the first base line. I remember him telling a young fan “I’m just borrowing this jersey, it may be yours one day.” It’s one thing to say you’re humble. It’s another to actually be humble. Great article, DK, about a truly great guy.

  53. Drew71 says:

    I’ve typed about six things and erased them all.

    I’m just gonna let your post be the last word.

  54. Drew71 says:

    Well. Almost last.

  55. Drew71 says:


  56. Drew71 says:

    that’s because it was already an extra-length column

  57. Jim S. says:

    + a bundle.

  58. Drew71 says:

    No. But a pretty interesting warning label.

  59. Naje says:

    Top shelf, Dejan. Terrific story well told.

    DK: Thank you.

  60. theplanisworking says:

    You mean…….. The FINAL Word. ;)

  61. theplanisworking says:

    I dont think ushers in Chicago just dont care who they yell at.
    Stay Classy, Chicago.

  62. Jim S. says:

    Here’s a true Wrigley story for you that rivals the incident with Mr. Hurdle on ROOT the other day.

    Several years back, I got tickets through work for the Cubs vs. Astros to take my wife and kids. It was the only time in history that two 300 game winners were facing each other as starting pitchers – Maddux vs. Clemens. So, pretty historic.

    Anyway, my wife brought a camera for the off-chance something cool might be captured. I told her that if there was any way to get the two of them in a picture together, on the field and during the game action, that would be a one-of-a-kind picture. I’m not talking about them posing for a photo. I’m talking about as part of the action. – totally unique The only way I figured it could happen was when one was pitching and one was batting. Anyway, Clemens was pitching to Maddux and my scenario happened just as I had envisioned. Maddux grounded out, and I told my wife to get a shot of them together as Maddux crossed the mound heading back to the Cubs dugout on the 3b side. We were about 10 rows back, just to the left of homeplate,positioned perfectly.

    My wife quickly got into position in the aisle to take the picture when, out of nowhwere, one of the many septagenarian usherettes employed by the Cubs shoved her hard as she was going to snap the pic and said, “You can’t take pictures during the game.” She totally ruined any chance of the picture. IT was the harshest thing I had ever seen from an usher at a ballgame.

    Our seats were on the aisle and my wife was not interrupting anyone. She just stepped out into the vacated aisle, knelt down and set up the shot. This lady could easily have waited another 3 seconds for the shot to be taken. But, she rudely ruined the moment.

    I have nothing whatsoever against the Cubs hiring seasoned citizens to work the games, and most of them are actually quite delightful and very courteous. They even come around and squirt everyone with water on extremely hot days. But, this lady had long since lost the monitor most people have for common courtesy.

    Oh well. At least we have an interesting story.

  63. theplanisworking says:

    Should have told her there was liver and onions at the concession stand.

  64. Reading says:

    The part of the story that does make sense, now, was that Grilli was something like the fourth overall pick the year he was drafted out of Seton Hall. Obviously, somebody thought the talent was there then.

  65. Jim S. says:

    Ha ha!

  66. Dave B says:

    Nice article on Grilli for the most part. I didn’t care about the Bush League cheap shot at the Iron Pigs organization. Lehigh Valley puts on some of the best events in minor league baseball and to take a cheap shot at the organization just because of their name is ridiculous.

  67. Patrick(RI) says:

    You would have been really distraught back when Steve Stone used to have fun with the Rockford “Lug Nuts.” It seems to me these names are created to poke fun at?

  68. Jandy says:

    You need to charge her battery, Drew :)

  69. Jandy says:

    Don’t forget prunes for dessert ;)

  70. Jandy says:

    As she was obviously full of it.

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