With all the ups and downs in Major League Baseball, many players and coaches find solace and stability in some form of spirituality. For Kansas City Royals’ catching coach Pedro Grifol, that means being a committed Catholic who prays every day and attends Mass every Sunday throughout the year, regardless of whether a game is being played or not.
Baseball has been a part of Grifol’s life since he was 4 years old. In fact, the Miami, Florida, native has barely played any other sports — and with his baseball résumé, there does not seem to be a need for that. The father of three was named Florida’s “High School Baseball Player of the Year” in 1988. The very next season, he played in the College World Series for Florida State University, and did so again in 1991. That same year, he was named an All-American and was drafted by the Minnesota Twins. After playing nine seasons professionally, he went into the administrative side of baseball. In 2013, he joined the Kansas City Royals and was part of their 2015 World Series championship team.
Grifol recently spoke of baseball, family and Catholicism as the Royals attempt to overcome a slow start to the 2017 season.
What are your catching goals this season, and what are the overall team goals?
For catchers, it’s to prepare as best we can and then go out and have fun every day. Age, past wins or losses, contracts and awards don’t matter; what matters is just doing as well as we can, day in and day out. No matter what we’ve done before, there’s always something new to do and to learn.
For the team overall, it’s essentially the same thing, and also gelling as a team. Once that happens, we’ll be competitive, like we were in 2014 and ’15. An important part of the success of those teams was how well everyone worked with each other. A baseball team is not just a group of individuals, but a living, breathing organism. Each part affects every other part.
You always hear playoff teams say things like, “We get along so well and love each other so much; we’re like a family. We play for each other, and everyone wants everyone else to do well.” That’s not just a bunch of clichés. I know from experience that those things are true for teams that do well. Other teams might have more talent, but they couldn’t get to the playoffs because they didn’t play as a team.
Do you find that fans don’t understand the importance of catchers?
Fans these days are usually very knowledgeable about the game, but I think, regardless of the amount of information being passed around, catchers will always take a backseat, as far as the glory goes. Catchers are kind of like offensive linemen, who do a lot of work blocking for running backs while the running backs get 90% of the credit for big plays.
The same is true when a pitcher throws a shutout. Only a few people will think of how the catcher might have helped the pitcher select the right pitches. That’s not a complaint; that’s just how baseball is, and when catchers accept that, the team does well. Plus, catchers can get attention when they hit well, so sometimes they’ll make headlines through offensive output. But when it comes to pitching, the catchers aren’t thought of much unless they make a mistake.
I don’t think the Royals set out to get a bunch of Catholic catchers, but that was the situation. It probably has helped, because being Catholic is something we all share. We don’t have to explain ourselves to each other; there’s an understanding already there, and it helps us to be concerned about each other, not just professionally, but as brothers with souls to save.
Drew is a strong Catholic, and he’s still catching for us this year. Cody is also a strong Catholic, but he has moved into the scouting department for the Royals. Now there’s not as close of a connection with Cody on a daily basis, but he is still a good friend with a big heart.
Have you always been able to connect baseball with Catholicism?
Yes. I went to a Catholic grade school — Sts. Peter and Paul — and high school — Christopher Columbus — both in Miami. We prayed before games, and in high school there was Mass every morning in the chapel. At Florida State, we prayed before games, too. Coach [Mike] Martin is a big-time believer in God. I think his faith has helped him to be a great coach. He currently has the second most wins in the history of NCAA Division I baseball.
Father Burke Masters played collegiate baseball at Mississippi State. Do you remember playing against him when you were at Florida State?
I don’t remember him specifically, but I do remember Mississippi State, so we probably did play against each other on more than one occasion. He’s the chaplain for the Cubs now, but we don’t get to play the Cubs in Chicago very often, so I haven’t seen him yet at a regular-season game. I did get to talk with him during spring training this year, though.
Which aspects of Catholicism have you found to be most helpful?
Probably the biggest thing is the sense of comfort I get from knowing that God has things under control. We should do our best to get the most out of our talents, but always knowing that God is the author of our destiny. If we don’t do our part and work hard, God will probably take away what we do have [Matthew 13:12] , but at the same time, when we’re successful, it’s not just a matter of our own work. It’s really God who has brought our work, our coworkers’ work, and everything else together so that something bigger than ourselves can be accomplished. It’s really God who has brought our work, our co-workers’ work and everything else together so that something bigger than ourselves can be accomplished.
I can walk into a church knowing that the Lord has provided us with everything we need — all the sacraments, teachings, Scriptures, community — so it’s just up to us to acknowledge those things and use them properly. It’s so good to know that, no matter what we might be going through — whether it’s a good or bad thing — that the Catholic Church has something specific for us. If there’s someone we want to spend the rest of our lives with, the Church has a sacrament for that. If we’re sick and going to the hospital, the Church has a sacrament for that, too.
The Church also has countless prayers for all kinds of occasions. My father sent me one when he was going through cancer treatment. It [was in Spanish, but basically started with the phrase] “Lord, I have full confidence in you.” Everybody has adversities to go though, so it’s a matter of succumbing to them or growing from them. My father and mother taught me that God is the No. 1 priority, so we place our hope in him. This is true in good times and bad.
Do you pray as a family?
Yes, we usually pray in the car in the morning — whether my wife, Ali, our kids, my mother-in-law or whoever else is in the car — and that sets the tone for the day. It’s a time of both structured and spontaneous outpouring of our hearts to God. There’s a basic pattern of thanksgiving, then asking for our needs and the needs of others and praising him for however things turn out. The specifics change, but the overall method is the same.
We can pray all day long silently, but that vocal prayer as a family early on is a good way to re-establish in our minds God as our top priority, our dependence on him, and our duty to thank him for all the things he does for us. His all-powerful love is something we cannot do without. In him we live and move and have our being.
That last thought is in the Bible, but I can’t remember exactly where. There are probably lots of other concepts like that I carry with me, but I can’t necessarily tell you the chapter and verse that correspond with them. I just started listening to a Bible app every day, so maybe that will change, but regardless of which books of the Bible they’re in, the important thing is to live them. We won’t be quizzed by Jesus about numbers and books, but about how — or if — we loved God and our neighbor.
Do you find that easy to do working for the Royals?
The Royals are a great family organization. They know it’s not just about baseball, but people. Fathers take their sons to games, and whole families go as well. That personal interaction with the community is something that can be holy, and what can be especially holy is when players and coaches visit hospitals, community centers and things like that.
Mike Sweeney was a big force for good when he played with the Royals, and now he’s with the team in an administrative/instructional capacity. His friend Toby Cook coordinates community relations events that show the Royals’ family spirit. We talked about Catholic catchers, but there are Catholics in other positions with the Royals, too, with Mike and Toby being prime examples.
I’ve been around baseball since I was 4 years old. In that same time I’ve barely played any other sports, so I kind of breathe baseball. I do enjoy it, but in the offseason I’m around my family 24/7. I wouldn’t even think of playing golf or doing some other hobby, since that would take away from time with family. I don’t judge guys who would play golf, but I don’t even have the desire to do that. My family is very dear to me, so it doesn’t enter my mind to go somewhere else when I can be with them.
Being with family, with co-workers or with anyone else are all times that can be sanctified by the Holy Spirit. We have to do our part, though. It’s not automatic that things will go well. We have to prepare and pray and persist in doing good, all the while knowing that God is giving us the strength to do it. I’m not pushy about telling this to other people, but I’m very firmly and happily Catholic, so if you ask me spiritual questions, those are the types of answers I’ll give.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book, Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015), contains numerous Catholic sports
interviews, most of which have appeared in the Register.