South Wilmington native Todd Grieff found himself in the right place at the right time this past offseason. He had been deliberating for years about the possibility of coaching baseball at the high school level, only this time he acted upon it.
"Coaching is something I always wanted to do if I could manage my time properly," Grieff said. "Years back, (Kankakee Community College) coach Todd Post called me to be a pitching coach there, but I just couldn't find the time. I have a 17-month old son and another son on the way. I am in life-teaching mode with them, and my wife and I decided there is time to fit in coaching. Since the job was open at Gardner-South Wilmington, why not give it a try?"
Grieff is a 1989 graduate of GSW, where he played baseball and basketball. He went on to KCC and eventually Arkansas Little Rock.
"My dad was my biggest influence, fan, coach and teacher. Every summer night my brother and I had to meet my dad in the backyard and go through a routine of fielding ground balls and pitching," Grieff said. "Two other influences were Scott Spiezio and Derik Braunecker."
Grieff played summer ball with Spiezio, a Morris native, in 1989 before moving on to eventually pitch for Braunecker.
"Scott's work ethic, talent, game-knowledge and vision were impressive. By being around him, I just knew he was going to play professionally," Greiff said. "Derik was my pitching coach at UALR and taught me what I think were perfect pitching mechanics. Derik was a mentor of mine and, just like Scott, was one of those guys that you knew would be successful. Derik played pro ball and is now an agent for players like Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett."
It's that kind of thing which made GSW athletic director Shane Tucker think Grieff was a good fit.
"We liked Todd's background as a player and the success he had as a Division I baseball player at KCC and then Arkansas Little Rock," Tucker said. "Todd is a supervisor at Aux-Sable and his leadership skills through his experience there was also important. We felt that Todd would give us stability over a period of time that we needed in our baseball program."
Grieff works for Aux Sable Liquid Products — a place he had to be sure was on board with him taking on the coaching duties for the Panthers.
"My day job is a pipeline supervisor ... I work for a great company and I am not afraid to say that I love my job," Grieff said. "If coaching couldn't fit in my my day job, I would not be able to coach. Once I was assured that I could fit coaching in, I emailed athletic director Shane Tucker and asked him if I would be a good fit to coach baseball. He set up an interview, I went through the process, explained my expectations and I was hired."
It was in September that the board at GSW decided to give him the chance to fulfill his coaching dreams.
Grieff will be assisted by Chad Harvey this spring.
"Chad knows this group of kids very well and has coached them through the years during summer ball," Grieff explained. "Thus far, the time I have spent with him has been very productive and we seem to gel very well. Chad's strong points are the catching and hitting knowledge he brings to the program."
In terms of the product on the field this spring, Grieff said that he's hoping to mold a team that shares his strengths.
"The style I want to build is through strong pitching at both the JV and varsity levels. I enjoy the game, but pitching is my passion," he said. "I am currently working with the pitchers and adjusting their mechanics."
No matter how much Grieff puts into the game, however, he still knows that it all comes down to the players if the team is going to be successful.
"I'm excited for this opportunity and hope I can help the team bring some success to GSW," he said. "I have contacted a few of my college baseball teammates, looking for any advice that may help me be successful. It's all about the kids now and I simply want to give them the best chance to have a fun and productive season."