JOHNSTOWN, Pennsylvania – When Jason Grilli’s name is mentioned, the first thought that most likely comes to mind is baseball. Not sports.
But the 45-year-old retired Major League Baseball pitcher made an appearance for Esports Night during Friday’s Johnstown Mill Rats game at Sargent’s Stadium at the Point, greeting fans while signing copies of his book and by promoting The Esport Company, an organization that is around competitive video gaming.
“I’ve been around this town, and it’s such a beautiful ballpark,” Grilli said. “Obviously when you have such a big sports facility it gets a lot of attention. Just to see certain things of a city trying to regenerate itself is great.
“That’s why I’m here.”
The Esport company, of which Grilli is an investor, was founded in 2020 by Seth Mason, who was born and raised in North Cambria.
Grilli connected with Mason online and took an interest in his company’s cause because of the message he promotes.
“I loved what he was doing, giving back to the community,” Grilli said. “I know that very well as a baseball player. My time is up, now is the time to do my part and give back, just like he does.
“The Esport Company, abbreviated as TEC, is technology, education, community.”
The Esport Company runs local high school video game leagues, as well as leagues at several YMCAs.
On Saturday, the company will host TEC Con at 1st Summit Arena @ the Cambria County War Memorial, which will be considered an all-star event for players involved in its leagues.
The field will include 48 players competing on 32 separate computers in front of a public crowd. According to TEC’s Director of Content Creation, Kris McNaney, this will involve chatter between fans and players, but it will help spur players on for their competition.
“He’s building a framework for kids who don’t have the opportunity or don’t want to play real sports,” Grilli said of Mason and TEC. “There’s starting to be some serious competition, especially if they’re making it an Olympic sport. Additionally, it could be an opportunity or a gateway to future tech jobs. There are plenty of them in the Pittsburgh area.
Prior to getting involved with TEC, in addition to being one of the founders of “Rock’n Ball Wines,” Grilli competed in MLB over a span of 15 seasons. He compiled a 34-47 record with a 4.22 ERA and 79 saves.
Grilli began his career being selected No. 4 overall in the 1997 MLB Draft by the San Francisco Giants. A starter turned reliever, Grilli pitched for the Florida Marlins (now Miami), Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates.
The veteran pitcher eventually penned a book called ‘Just My Game’, chronicling his career journey, which included battling multiple injuries, including a knee injury sustained in spring training in 2009 while sprinting. Grilli’s rehabilitation caused him to miss the entire 2010 season.
“I never really intended to write a book,” Grilli said.
“It was more of a diary to start with. When my career was almost over, and after having those major surgeries, the one that threw me for the biggest loop was my quad injury. When I encountered that, everything i needed to say or talk to my sons i put in the diary and it turned into a book.
“The theme was not to give up, to make the dream a reality. I want to hand over to everyone here with the Mill Rats.
Grilli’s four-year tenure with the Pirates was arguably the highlight of his career, where he signed a one-year contract in 2011 to reunite with manager Clint Hurdle, for whom he played at Colorado in 2008. Grilli then signed a two-year contract. contract with Pittsburgh in December 2012, marking his first-ever multi-year contract, where he eventually became closest to the team and earned the nickname “Grilled Cheese”.
“The story of ‘Grilled Cheese’ has come to life. I have always loved giving back, feeding children. Making a difference when someone is hungry is a good thing to see. and I’m Italian, so I like that,” Grilli said with a laugh.
In 2013, Grilli was named a National League All-Star for the first and only time in his career, where he pitched the ninth inning of the All-Star Game at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. While also becoming the first Pirate since 1992 to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, Grilli helped the Pirates reach their first postseason in 21 years.
“I had the chance to play 20 seasons, 15 of which were in the major leagues,” Grilli said. “I went through ups and downs but like I said I never gave up. I got drafted as a starter and ended up being a closer. I made back and forth, and everything. I laughed and I cried a lot. They say there’s no crying in baseball, but there is when you take your jersey off. I I’m lucky to have made it my job.”