The Norfolk Tides are in town and there is a decidedly Boston flavor to their staff. Former Red Sox catcher Gary Allenson is their manager and New Englander Richie Hebner is their hitting instructor. The pitching coach is no stranger to McCoy, that’s for sure. Mike Griffin was the PawSox pitching coach from 2003-2007 before joining the Orioles organization. Griff was always a great guy to be around and it’s nice to have him here again. “This place has special memories for me. I spent 5 years here. My family and I thoroughly enjoyed Pawtucket, the Providence area. With Ben Mondor, Mike Tamburro and Lou (Schwechheimer), they always made us feel very special here. It’s always great to be back. I always look forward to it.”
Griff jokes that old habits die hard. He makes sure that he doesn’t go into the wrong clubhouse when he arrives at McCoy. “You feel like you want to keep going straight when you walk through the double doors. I remind myself to make the right turn. You look forward to coming back here because of the atmosphere, the fans and the ownership. McCoy will always hold a very special place in my heart.”
Part of the good times that Griff misses here stem from his co-workers. Managers Buddy Bailey and Ron Johnson and hitting instructor Mark Budaska helped form a circle that he relishes. “It’s like a fraternity. You work together for a while and then you go your separate ways for a while. It really is like a “360”. You stay in touch and see each other. ‘Buda’ and I still talk a couple of times over the winter, R.J. – the same way. You build these friendships and they are special relationships. We had some great ballclubs here, Buddy, R.J., Buda and myself.”
Even though Griff is in the Orioles organization, he still keeps a close eye on some of his former pupils. “Any pitcher I’ve had over the years, I still watch to see how they’re doing. (Jon) Lester, (Clay) Buchholz, (Jonathan) Papelbon, (Manny) Delcarmen. Boy, what a special group that was to work with. Just like these young pitchers I’ve been working with in Baltimore for the last three years. It doesn’t matter, where ever they go, I keep an eye on them just to see how they’re doing and believe it or not, some of them still call me to this day, just to talk.”
While Mike Griffin spent the better part of a decade in the Boston organization, make no mistake, he now bleeds Oriole orange. “We do basically the same things, but we do them in a different way. We prepare them, so when they do get the call, everything is in place.”
One of Griff’s fondest memories goes back to the 2004 season. He was named the International Leagues’ pitching coach for the Triple A All Star game at McCoy Stadium. “That bar was set so high by the PawSox, I don’t think it could ever be matched. In my mind, there’s nothing that could match what the PawSox did for that event. To be involved with something of that magnitude, it will always be etched in my mind as one of the single most spectacular days I’ve ever spent on a baseball diamond.”
In 2009, the Orioles recognized Griffins’ efforts by giving him the Cal Ripken, Sr. award. It goes annually to the minor league staff member that best exemplifies “The Oriole Way”. Ripken was credited as the architect of the Orioles blueprint for doing things. “They had me on the field in Baltimore before a game against Tampa Bay. I really had to work to hold it back”. Griff admitted that emotion almost overtook him as he remembered his former manager. “I played for Cal Ripken Sr. in 1987 in Baltimore. I knew the guy very well and to be recognized for doing something in development that was the “Ripken” way was very special. I got it for something I guess I did well. It meant very, very, very, much to me.”
The Orioles made a good pick up by hiring Mike Griffin. There’s no doubt, however, he left an indelible imprint on the Red Sox in general and the PawSox, specifically.