It was a little like having a college math professor around to
help out with your algebra homework. During the early part of
his junior season at James W. Martin High in Arlington, Texas,
Ben Grieve was struggling at the plate. He had missed the first
few games of the season while playing varsity basketball and
couldn't find his timing. So he took a couple of sessions of
batting practice with a friend of his father's. Grieve's father,
Tom, was the general manager of the Texas Rangers; the friend
was Rangers batting instructor Tom Robson. The extra BP seemed
to help. Ben hit three dingers in his next game.
So it was just like old times for Ben when he returned to
Arlington on June 16, this time as the Oakland A's rookie
rightfielder, and commenced jerking balls out of the yard.
Grieve went deep in his first two at bats in a 9-7 A's victory,
drilling his ninth and 10th homers of the season. At week's end,
having gone 4 for 4 with four RBIs against the Rockies last
Friday and following that up with a game-winning homer and three
ribbies on Saturday, Grieve led all American League rookies in
home runs (11), runs (59), RBIs (50), walks (41) and on-base
percentage (.409), and he had just about drained every ounce of
suspense out of the American League Rookie of the Year race.
Baseball people, around whom Grieve grew up, especially love his
mastery of his emotions, which is best observed in his
Vulcan-like detachment at the plate. "Exceptionally disciplined"
is how A's hitting coach Denny Walling describes him. Adds
Grieve's apartmentmate, rookie catcher A.J. Hinch, "The way he
stands up there and commands the strike zone, it's like he's
been in the league five or six years."
The A's selected Grieve with the second pick of the 1994 draft,
thus making Tom and Ben the first father-and-son duo to be
selected in the first round (the Washington Senators drafted Tom
in '66). After 3 1/2 seasons drilling baseballs around such minor
league outposts as Medford, Modesto, Huntsville and Edmonton,
Ben was called up last September. He was not exactly in awe,
hitting three doubles and driving in five runs against the
Giants in his debut.
July 5, 1998
Since then his short, happy career has been defined, more than
anything, by his ability to bear down in the clutch. He is
batting .347 with runners on, .400 with the bases loaded. It was
Grieve who broke up Roger Clemens's bid for a no-hitter in the
seventh inning on May 2, and Grieve who fouled off five pitches
from fireballing Devil Rays closer Roberto Hernandez on April 27
before drawing a walk with two outs in the top of the ninth
inning. (The next batter drove in the winning run.) "I like
tough situations late in the game," says Grieve. "That's when
I'm concentrating best. Those are situations I want to be in."
Two nights after his encounter with Tampa Bay's Hernandez,
Grieve was plunked on the right shoulder by Cleveland Indians
pitcher Jaret Wright. Rather than charging the mound, Grieve
opted for a more prolonged form of revenge. He went 5 for 5.
It is almost a relief to learn that he has a deficiency or two.
His arm is average--his future is in leftfield--and he's missed
a few cutoff men this season. His mother, Kathy, would
appreciate it if he would write or call home more often. And his
home run trot needs work. Other than that, he's pretty much got