October 16, 2016 - 4:00 AM
Toronto reliever Jason Grilli was a fan of the Blue Jays long before he ever suited up for the team.
His father played for the Syracuse Chiefs — Toronto's former triple-A affiliate — and they made road trips together to the then-SkyDome to watch the Blue Jays in their World Series glory days.
"It was the closest big-league ballpark to go visit," Grilli said. "So to play in Toronto now and see the kind of crowds, it's a very underrated city. I find it's one of the best-kept secrets in baseball."
Grilli's father, Steve, spent parts of three seasons with the Detroit Tigers before closing out his big-league career in Toronto. He made one appearance for the Blue Jays in 1979, sandwiched between stints with the Chiefs.
Jason often hung out at MacArthur Stadium before embarking on his pro career. His father opened a bar in Syracuse and it became a popular spot for locals and players alike.
"It was a thrill when (SkyDome) opened up and I got to see those '92 and '93 teams and follow some of the guys from the Chiefs team that were down at my Dad's sports tavern watching the games and having some chicken wings," he said. "I met some of those guys and followed them up as they advanced to the big leagues.
"So it was pretty cool to be that close to it as a kid, as a fan and now as a Blue Jay."
Jason went to high school in nearby Baldwinsville, N.Y., and it was there that he developed a love for music and one band in particular: Pearl Jam.
He uses the band's 1994 tune "Whipping" for his walkout music. When Grilli was with the Pirates in 2013, he even joined the band on stage as they performed the song in Pittsburgh.
The opening lyrics: "Don't need a helmet, got a hard, hard head, don't need a raincoat, I'm already wet, don't need a bandage, there's too much blood — after a while seems to roll right off," drew him in, he said.
"I just felt that the first verse really spoke to the career path that I've had to take to get here." Grilli said. "So it's definitely a meaningful song to me."
It has been a long, interesting, and at times, challenging journey.
Grilli broke in with the Florida Marlins in 2000 and has played for nine major-league teams in all. He has been up and down between the bigs and the minor-league level throughout his career.
The 39-year-old native of Royal Oak, Mich., also ruptured his Achilles tendon in July 2015 with Atlanta. He returned to the Braves last spring and was traded to Toronto in May for minor-leaguer Sean Ratcliffe.
Grilli posted a 6-4 record with 3.64 earned-run average in 46 appearances with the Blue Jays and has been a trusted reliever for manager John Gibbons.
He has also become a fan favourite in Toronto with his energetic fist pumps and visible excitement. Grilli feeds off the energetic crowds at Rogers Centre.
"I haven't seen a crowd on TV yet during the playoffs, let alone the regular season, that is as crazy and wild as our fans get," Grilli said. "It's a variable and it's definitely helped us out. I know they're behind us ... but they show up everywhere (on the road). You've got to love them. They're great fans."
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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016