GREAT TO SEE GRIFF

     I first met Mike Griffin in 2004.  It was my first year doing PawSox broadcasts and he was the teams’ pitching coach.  Buddy Bailey was the manager that year.  After Bailey was fired by the Red Sox, Griff stayed on as the Ron Johnson era began.  Mike Griffin, whenever possible, lent some sanity to the proceedings.  Very often the good natured Griffin was fodder for one of R.J.’s practical jokes.  More than once, the portly skipper of the PawSox tied the unsuspecting Griffins’ shoes together while he slept on the bus.  He took it in stride, because we all do.  You have to.  It’s a long season.  Mention the name Mike Griffin to one of his former “students”, and the response is universal.  They respect him, and in a lot of cases feel even stronger.  Former PawSox All Star, retired righthander Tim Kester, now living in Florida was recently told that Griff was in town and his reply?  “Aw man.  Love that guy.  Tell him Hi.”

     Griffin serves as the pitching coach for the Norfolk Tides.  He was here in Pawtucket for five seasons.  He loves to come back to R.I., although this year is a little different.  “Ben (Mondor) will always be remembered by me and my family.  He took care of us all those years I was here.  I greatly appreciated his kindness, welcoming me to Pawtucket, welcoming my family.  What a special guy he was. He will always be remembered by the Griffins.”  Although Mike is the longest tenured pitching coach in PawSox history (5 years), he’s been gone for four seasons.  “I have fond memories of Pawtucket and Providence and Rhode Island, especially.  Being here as a member of the Red Sox and coming to this ballpark every day was a privilege for me.  It’s something I’ll always remember.  It was a great 5 years.  We saw a lot of very good pitching arms come through here, go up to Boston and do very well.  Also to help them win two World Series.  I’m very proud of the work that was accomplished here.”

     The list of pitchers that Griff has worked with over the years includes names like Bronson Arroyo, Clay Buchholz, Manny Delcarmen and Jonathan Papelbon.  Perhaps he is the proudest of a young lefthander that has developed into one of the best pitchers in the game.  Jon Lester.  “Very proud.  Very proud of him.  Coming here his first year, being very raw, a raw talent with a lot of special quality stuff that he brought to the table, on the mound every single night he pitched.  To watch him mature as a pitcher and a person and develop and get to Boston…I’m very proud of him.  I’ve since had some very long conversations with Jon.  He’s a very special person for me and in my career.”

     We spent some time talking about our old friend Ron Johnson and the hardship he and his family endured last summer when his daughter Bridget lost her leg in an accident when the horse she was riding was struck by a car.  Griff, a father of two, Kimberly and Brad, couldn’t imagine what the Johnsons went through.  “I don’t know how I would have dealt with what he and Daphne went through.  I hope I never receive that phone call.  I hope I never have to live what he and his family went through.  We’ve talked and I think he has changed for the better.  Life is precious and we can’t take it for granted.  I think the ordeal has changed him in a good way.  I had four great years with him.  He and I are pretty close and I hear that everything is going pretty well at home and I hope it continues to go well.”

     As we sat together, there were two things about Griff that popped into my mind.  Things that I will always associate with him, as long as I live.  His love of free popcorn and the Norman Rockwell baseball necktie he wore on every single road trip.  He laughed.  “I don’t wear the Rockwell tie anymore.  It had a Red Sox guy on it.  That’s been put away on a tie rack in a closet at home.”  Popcorn, however, is a very different story.  “It’s a staple.  I’ve got to have it every day.  I’ve got to have it on my bus rides.  I’ve got to be able to reach down and pull out a wad of popcorn and put it in my mouth.  I just love popcorn.  It’s one of my staples.  I love it.  What can I say?”

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