EMERSON, Ga. – Baseball is just like every sport in that competition and intensity serve as two of the main factors. Being serious about the game is essential for any player that wishes to play at the next level. Those workouts a player puts in before school starts and the hours of fielding ground balls and hitting off a tee during and after practice are a must for guys that plan to be successful. But, baseball always comes second to education.
Marquis Grissom, a World Series champion with the Atlanta Braves, played for 17 years in the major leagues. A native of Atlanta, Grissom started the Marquis Grissom Baseball Association, Inc. (MGBA) in 2006 after he retired from playing in 2005. He wanted to bring kids in from ‘underserved communities’ and give them the opportunities too not only excel at baseball, but also to excel in life. His mission, along with his brother Antonio, was to provide an atmosphere to get kids to the next level in their education.
“Marquis started this program about 10 years ago with the goal in mind to see how many kids we could get into college,” Antonio said. “We do more mentoring than actual baseball work.”
“It’s all about making good decisions in life, and hopefully it will transfer out on the baseball field. So, that’s where we are at right now. We are just seeing how many kids we can get into college.”
The organization does a great deal to provide their players with the best opportunity to go to college. With baseball coming secondary, the two Grissom brothers focus on their main goal with these kids and do everything they can to be a useful resource.
“We have a tutoring program that we have on Tuesdays and Thursdays that they get an opportunity to come to that helps those guys prepare for the SAT, the ACT, and any of their core classes that they need help with throughout the week,” Antonio explained.
“We do some mentoring stuff where we take them to major league baseball games. We go see the Braves. It gives them a chance to see what a professional baseball life is actually like. So they understand how much work and time comes into being a professional baseball player.”
Antonio, the head coach of the 18u Marquis Grissom Baseball team who is playing in this week’s 18u WWBA National Championship, played six seasons of minor league baseball. His experiences with high-level baseball, along with Marquis’, are what these two try to pass along to their players. They feel that their baseball knowledge gives them a good idea of what their players need to do to get to the next level whether it is college or professional baseball.
“Everybody can play at the next level,” Antonio admitted. “The separator is how much work they put in. How much you are willing to sacrifice to get to that next level. Marquis and I both played professional baseball. I coached in the minor leagues and scouted for the [Chicago] Cubs, and I had a chance to see what separates these guys.”
“We try to pass that knowledge along to them about going about your business the right way, hustling on and off the field, and just going about your business. Everybody knows Marquis as a hustler, just running on and off the field and working hard, and that’s what we try to instill in these guys.”
One of the guys on the 18u MGBA team that has benefitted from the guidance of Marquis and Antonio is 2015 grad Chad Smith. Smith, a University of Georgia commit, is one of the top players in his class. With a big 6-foot-2 frame and a sweet swing from the left side, Smith has seen great success on the diamond. He credited a lot of his progression as a player to being able to work with Marquis.
“He’s brought a tremendous amount of knowledge,” Smith said. “I’ve learned so much from him just from being around him the past two or three years. He’s made my game a lot better.”
Smith’s success led him to receive an invite to the Perfect Game National Showcase in Fort Myers, Florida, which was held earlier this month. Most of the top players in the 2015 class were in attendance. For Smith, it was all about holding his own and seeing where he was relative to the other players. His play at the event vaulted his ranking to 49th in the class, proving that he can compete with the best of them. His ability to pitch and play the field gives him a ton of different options as a player.
But, it is not his play on the field that stands out most to Antonio. It is whom Smith is as a person that takes center stage in his mind.
“The number one thing that Chad does best is he is a great kid,” Antonio said. “When you talk about some of the great players, you talk about makeup and what kind of person he is first. When that precedes your baseball talent, then you know you have a good kid.”
Smith’s character is summed up in the way he plays the game. Taking after the way Marquis played and what he was known for, Smith hustles in everything he does on the field. Heading into his senior year at South Gwinnett High School in Snellville, Georgia, he does not have too many goals. But, he knows the way he plays the game won’t change next year and as long as he is playing the game.
I just want to go out there, hustle, play hard, and see where it takes me,” Smith said. “Whether I get the chance to play professional baseball or I have to go to college, I’m just going to play hard all the time no matter what.”
After Smith and his teammates wrapped up a successful Sunday in the 18u WWBA tournament picking up two wins, they have pushed their record back up to .500. With many talented teams in their pool, the team has fought hard and wins have not come so easily. They lost their first two games by a run each, including a 7-6 heartbreaking loss to the powerhouse Midland Redskins.
But, once again, it is not all about baseball for this team. Their focus on getting an education and going to college will always come first. But as long as they are playing, baseball will continue serve as another avenue for these players to showcase their talent and their character.