Mason alum Griffith talks life in the Minors

Former George Mason pitcher Shawn Griffith winds up for the pitch during a minor league game for the Lansing Lugnuts last season, an affiliate with the Toronto Blue Jays (Mike Roberts).
Former George Mason pitcher Shawn Griffith winds up for the pitch during a minor league game for the Lansing Lugnuts last season, an affiliate with the Toronto Blue Jays (Mike Roberts).

Many student-athletes crave the chance to pursue a professional playing career in their respective sports post-graduation, yet few ultimately adhere to that burning desire. 

Shawn Griffith, however, did not shy away from the challenge and chose to chase his lifelong dream.

Griffith, a 2009 graduate from George Mason University, is a relief pitcher in the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization. The 24-year-old St. Petersburg, Fla. native was selected in the 37th round in the 2009 Major League draft, one of six Mason graduates to get drafted that year.

The other Mason draftees in ’09 were Justin Bour by the Chicago Cubs, Jordan Flasher by the Boston Red Sox, Chris Henderson by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mike Modica by the Houston Astros and Scott Kreiger by the Milwaukee Brewers.

Thus, the Patriots were well represented in the minor leagues in 2009, a year Griffith reflects upon with pride as he considers it the best of his career to date.

“My rookie year in ’09 was the best season of my life, and I got to play closer, which is my favorite position,” Griffith said.

Not many athletes can look back and say their professional rookie campaign was their best ever. That season, Griffith made 25 appearances to the mound, amounting a record of 2-2 with nine saves and an ERA of 0.53. He also recorded 52 strikeouts in 33.2 total innings of work.

Griffith in action during a game for the Lugnuts in 2011 (Mike Roberts).

In 2010, he made 24 game appearances and had a record of 2-4 with one save.

Last year, Griffith played for the Lansing Lugnuts, a Low A team in Lansing, Mich. Unbeknownst to most casual baseball fans, Single A baseball is divided into Rookie, Low A and Advanced A ball. As a member of the Lugnuts in 2011, Griffith made 24 trips to the mound as a reliever en route to accumulating a 5-0 record and an ERA of 4.82.

This upcoming season, however, he hopes to move up to the next level.

“This coming year I’m trying to make the High A squad in Dunedin, Fla.,” he said, “which is right next to my house, which is nice. So I would get to live at home if I play for that team.”

Not only does the High A team play in Dunedin, Fla., but that is also the location of Spring Training for the Blue Jays’ organization. It also happens to be just 25 minutes from Griffith’s home.

However, the various teams within the organization are not assigned until the conclusion of camp, so currently none of the minor leaguers know where they will be sent for the start of the upcoming season.

“I’m just looking forward to getting started, I’m just getting anxious for the season,” Griffith said.

As Griffith awaits the start of Spring Training, the Mason baseball team kicked off their season on Feb. 17 with a win over Appalachian State in the Elon Tournament, before dropping their next two contests against Elon in a double-header. The Patriots return to action Friday, Feb. 24 against the Wolfpack of N.C. State.

Griffith reflects on his time with Mason as a major boost in terms of his baseball abilities. He began his collegiate career with St. Petersburg College, where he spent two years before transferring to Fairfax.

In his first season with the Patriots, Griffith led his team in opponent's batting average, holding the opposition to a .215 mark, and in game appearances with 21 trips to the mound.

“They really had a great coaching staff, and I got better both physically and mentally,” he said. “People don’t realize how important the mental game is in baseball.”

The coaching staff certainly did something for the rising star, as his ERA plummeted from 6.06 in his first year with Mason to 3.05 in his second. In addition to his solid ERA as a senior, Griffith established a new school record for appearances in a season with 29, amassing a record of 4-0 to go along with three saves. He also struck out 41 batters in 44.1 innings of action.

He mainly pinpoints the success of his senior year on the help from head coach Bill Brown, a man that has been at the helm for the Patriots for 31 years.

“Bill Brown is really a player’s coach, he’s the best coach I’ve had in my life,” Griffith said.

Brown has been named the CAA Coach of the Year a record six times and has led his team to six NCAA Tournament appearances.

Griffith enjoyed the camaraderie of the Mason team and remains in touch with his former teammates who also chose to follow their dreams and play professional ball. Getting to see some of those guys regularly is one of his favorite aspects of playing in the minors.

“It’s pretty cool to see your former teammates and especially to play against them,” he said.

He will likely get a chance to see those guys again this season, however Griffith remains unaware of where he will be calling home for 2012. As a 24-year-old pitcher, which is on the older end of the spectrum for minor leaguers, he is simply hoping for the chance to move up the Blue Jays' hierarchy.

“I’m just thankful to still be around,” Griffith said.

His goal is to be a member of the Advanced A squad this year, the Dunedin Blue Jays, and then to make the AA roster of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats sometime in the near future. Among the players, AA ball is considered just one phone call away from the Big Leagues, as players are called all the way up regularly.

“The talent level really jumps, the pay really jumps, maybe it could happen for me this year,” Griffith said.

The life of a minor leaguer is a roller coaster, as guys bounce around from team to team all over the country and have to battle for playing time with other equally capable prospects. Nonetheless, Griffith has nothing but compliments for the Blue Jays’ organization, saying they seem to like him and that he feels comfortable as a product in their system.

Despite loving his experiences this far, Griffith admits it hasn’t been easy.

“It’s a very hard journey, people don’t realize how hard it is,” he said. “They think we just get to play baseball all day, but it takes a lot of work, we don’t get paid much, we have to eat out every night, everyone has about equal talent and it’s hard to compete.”

In the offseason, he works at a pizza restaurant in order to make some extra cash to even survive the minimal pay of playing Single A baseball the rest of the year.

Amidst all of the challenges, hard work and limited glory, Griffith wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love it, I won’t quit, I just want to play forever.”

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