KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Marquis Grissom is back in an Atlanta Braves uniform, giving him an opportunity to promote his efforts to put uniforms on Atlanta kids who otherwise might not have the chance to play organized games.
Grissom played 17 years in the major leagues, including two years with the Braves. He retired two years ago, and now is linking poor Atlanta kids to baseball through his Marquis Grissom Baseball Association.
"I call it giving someone a chance," Grissom said. "To me, baseball is a connection to get to the kids. We’re talking about life skills as well as baseball skills."
Grissom accepted the invitation of general manager Frank Wren to spend the rest of spring training with the team, mixing with players and representing the team in the pregame exchange of lineups at home plate.
Grissom watched batting practice Sunday with hitting coach Terry Pendleton and received a warm ovation when his pregame introduction included the fact that he caught the final out in the Braves’ 1995 World Series win over Cleveland.
Grissom said he has fielded "a few questions here and there" from young Braves players, but he said he hasn’t sought out ways to share tips.
"It’s their time; I’ve had my time," he said.
"It feels good to be here. I’ve had two years to sit back and wonder how 17 years went so by so quick."
Wren also had Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro in camp earlier in spring training.
"I think it’s great," Grissom said, adding that even older players like to see former stars come back for visits.
"Even after I had played 13 or 14 years, when I played in San Francisco I had the chance to see Willie Mays and Willie McCovey up close, and that was great for me," Grissom said. "For me, that was something to see."
Wren said he and team president John Schuerholz have talked about strengthening ties with former Braves stars for several years. Wren was motivated by seeing former stars Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Red Schoendienst at the Cardinals’ camp.
"We’d like to connect in a more direct way with our former great players," Wren said. "We’d like them to come into our major league camp and be in uniform and be around our coaches and players and fans.
"For young pitchers to be around a Hall of Famer like Phil Niekro is invaluable. The same thing with Marquis. He had a long, very good career at the major league level and we have a lot of young outfielders, in center field especially."
Grissom began his career with Montreal, where he played from 1989-94. He played with Atlanta in 1995 and 1996, when he set career highs with 207 hits, 23 homers and a .308 batting average.
Grissom said he might like to coach in the major leagues one day, but for now his focus is on his youth league.
"His heart right now is working with kids," Wren said. "We’ve talked about working with the Braves and he said ‘I’ve still got a lot to do with the kids.’ You’ve got to respect and appreciate that."
Grissom said he has had more than 400 young players, ages 6 to 16, in his program.
Grissom said his commitment of time and money has been a way of giving back to the support he said he enjoyed when he grew up in south Atlanta.
"Without the community, where I came from, no way I would be where I’m at," he said.
Grissom said he is looking for sponsors and says he plans to pursue assistance from Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program.
"I had a vision, and I’m there every day, but I just know Major League Baseball would be a big help," Grissom said.
Grissom and Braves pitcher John Smoltz put on an annual Smoltz-Grissom Wood Bat Classic, and the championship game of the May 23-27 tournament will be played at Turner Field.
Grissom said he is trying to set up travel games to help expose some of his best older players to college scouts. Players must show proof of good grades in school to remain involved in Grissom’s program.
"I want them to graduate from high school first," he said.
Grissom told the story of one of his players who made his high school team for the first time as a junior.
"You should have seen the smile on his face," Grissom said, relaxing on the dugout steps before Sunday’s Braves game.
"I would love to be out here," Grissom said, staring at the field, "but to have that happen to you one day a week or even one day a month, it’s priceless."