Baseball

She dominated college hitters. Now she’s trying to earn a spot on the Grizzlies.

Former college softball ace hoping to pitch for the Gateway Grizzlies

Former University of Georgia women’s NCAA college softball player is training with the independent minor league baseball Gateway Grizzlies in Sauget, IL in southern Illinois near St. Louis, MO in an effort to become the first female professional b
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Former University of Georgia women’s NCAA college softball player is training with the independent minor league baseball Gateway Grizzlies in Sauget, IL in southern Illinois near St. Louis, MO in an effort to become the first female professional b

Katie Griffith had been getting hitters out for most of her life. This time was a little different.

Standing on the pitching mound in a California Winter League game in February, the 31-year-old Griffith — one of the top softball pitchers at the University of Georgia a decade ago — was 60 feet, 6 inches away from a hitter with a baseball in her hand.

“It wasn’t really hard for me to do. I had been a pitcher my whole life. I understand how to get hitters out,” Griffith said. “The big thing was what went along with it. Standing on the mound, looking around the infield and seeing men playing defense, the umpires, everything.

“Then being on the mound and all the differences from softball. Leading off a base is different in baseball than it is in softball, getting used to that. Holding runners on base, learning that if I move my elbow in a certain way, it’s a balk. It was a learning experience.”

Griffith has been working with Tom House, a sports psychologist who has mentored the likes of NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Breese as well as many major league pitchers, and who is a former minor league teammate of Gateway Grizzlies’ owner Rich Sauget.

My training is going well, and the long-term goal is to pitch for an affiliated team in the next two years.

Katie Griffith

House invited Sauget to Palm Springs to watch Griffith pitch a Winter League game.

“The day she pitched, she walked the first guy, then picked him off, struck out the second guy and then got the third man to fly out to left field,” Sauget said. “She had a real good outing, threw strikes and kept the ball down. I was impressed.”

He was impressed enough that he flew Griffin to St. Louis, gave her a job in the Grizzlies front office and extended an invitation to the Frontier League tryouts, which begin April 24.

Griffith will attempt to become the second woman to play in the Frontier League. Kendra Hanes appeared in 10 games with the Kentucky Rifles of the Frontier League in 1994.

She’s living with a host family, just as Grizzlies players do during the season.

“I was looking for an avenue to where I could continue my training, and Mr. Sauget gave me that,” Griffith said. “ I can go to work, then go through my workout and go back to the office and do some more work. It’s worked out great.”

Finding the mechanics

House enjoyed an eight-year major league career with stints in Atlanta, Boston, Seattle and Toronto. After concluding his career in 1978 with a record of 29-23, he coached with San Diego, Houston and Texas before going back to college where he got his Ph.D. in sports psychology.

House, considered the father of modern pitching mechanics by some, met Griffith and has worked with her for some time. Last year, after learning that she understood what House was teaching, Griffith was ready to chase her goal of playing professional baseball.

Founder of The Rod Dedeaux Research and Baseball Institute and The National Pitching Association, House said Griffith has the mental make up to pitch with a professional organization.

“Katie has already achieved a great deal of success as a softball pitcher, and there have been pitchers who have played in the big leagues who have thrown 82-84 mph. Do I think she will pitch in the major leagues? Probably not. But I certainly think that there is a possibility of her being able to pitch at the Class A or Class AA level,” House said. “I have seen pitchers at the professional level who throw 82-84 mph, and we can get her there.”

The issue is with her physical strength and her overhand pitching mechanics.

“We’ve worked on adding muscle strength and she’s added some pitches with the split-finger fastball, and she’s working on a knuckleball,” House said. “The key is making it through this year. If she can and we can get her into a full-term program, then I think she could be a pitcher for a Class A or Class AA team. Maybe not a closer, but maybe someone who could pitch and inning or two.”

Griffith currently throws a fastball that hovers around the mid 70s range.

“We’d like to get her up around 82-83 mph,” Sauget said. “I know she’s working on some pitches, like a knuckleball, that she can use to get batters out.”

The next chapter

The daughter of Steve and Teresa Griffith, of Conyers, Ga., Katie Griffith played several sports growing up. She gave up soccer after breaking the glasses of an opposing player, then gave up basketball to prevent an injury that could endanger her hopes of playing college softball.

But for Griffith, the love of softball came at a much younger age.

“I was seven when I started playing softball. It came pretty naturally,” Griffith said. “I think I was around 8 1/2 when my dad asked me if I was interested in pitching.”

Griffith attended Heritage High School in Conyers where she twice led her team to the Class 4A state championship. A two-time Georgia state high school pitcher of the year, Griffith had a 0.19 earned run average her senior year when she struck out 358 batters in 217 innings.

The day she pitched, she walked the first guy, then picked him off, struck out the second guy and then got the third man to fly out to left field.

Gateway Grizzlies’ owner Rich Sauget

Recruited by schools such as Stanford and Louisiana State, Griffith opted to attend Georgia, where she was a member of one Southeastern Conference championship and qualified for the NCAA Division I tournament four straight seasons.

After graduating with a degree in journalism. Griffith moved to Los Angeles, where she was coaching softball at a private high school.

She left Southern California on Feb. 27 to open another new chapter. Five days later, she was in the St. Louis area and working out at GCS Ballpark in Sauget.

She hopes it entails securing her place with the Grizzlies, then, in the long term, find her way onto the roster of an affiliated team.

“My training is going well, and the long-term goal is to pitch for an affiliated team in the next two years,” Griffith said. “I want to do it for me because I know how hard I’ve worked to get here and also to prove to others that they can achieve their goals as well.

“And when I do make it, I want Tom (House) there to see it because he has helped me so much.”

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