UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO / Summer 2009
[goal-driven]
Ready To Play
Toreros pitcher has high hopes of making it to the big leagues
by Tom Shanahan
PHOTO BY BROCK SCOTT
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Pitcher A.J. Griffin earned a spot last summer on the USA Baseball National Team, which allowed the junior All-American to represent his country on an international stage.

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unior All-American baseball pitcher A.J. Griffin didn’t earn credits through one of USD’s many study abroad programs, but his overseas studies last summer were easily as valuable to him as his classmates’ varied experiences. Griffin earned a roster spot on the USA Baseball National Team that played games throughout Europe and won the gold med-al in the 2008 FISU World Base-ball Championships in the Czech Republic.

“It was interesting to see how different cultures live, and it was great to see how different parts of the world play baseball,” he says. “The Japanese, South Korean and Chinese Taipei teams were all very disciplined.”

Griffin, a business major who speaks fluent Spanish, took advantage of the opportunity to interact with the Cuban players.

“We know so little about the Cubans because of the embargo on Cuba. It was interesting to talk to them,” he says. “They asked me questions about living in America, but mostly it was small talk.”

The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Griffin played the role of closer, just as he has done for the Toreros since 2007. As a sophomore, he was named a third-team All-American by Louisville Slugger. He also was first-team All-West Coast Conference pick on the team chosen by WCC coaches.

Although Griffin’s talent earned the roster spot at USA Baseball tryouts in North Carolina, the reputation of USD’s baseball program under 11th-year head coach Rich Hill contributed to a number of opportunities.

In fact, USD’s success under Hill is what attracted Griffin to Alcalá Park when he was the Player of the Year for the California Interscholastic Federation San Diego Section as a senior at Grossmont High in 2006.

In addition to annual national rankings, USD has been to the NCAA tournament three straight years and five of the last seven. The Toreros entered the 2009 season as West Coast Conference champions.

“We’re always going to have good teams here,” Griffin says. “We have good depth, and we enjoy playing together. We’re all buddies here with the same goal.”

Griffin’s summer experience following his freshman and sophomore years at USD has propelled him into his junior year as a candidate for the Golden Spikes Award, presented to college baseball’s top player by USA Baseball.

As a sophomore, his 14 saves set a single-season school record; his combined 25 saves as a freshman and sophomore established a career record that he’s adding to as a junior.

Although the team has been slowed by injuries in 2009, Griffin has helped the Toreros remain in the hunt for a third straight WCC title and a fourth consecutive NCAA trip.

Hill has used Griffin as a starter and in longer stints as a reliever, which helps showcase him before scouts; Griffin will be eligible this year for the amateur draft in June. According to Hill, Griffin is projected as a third- to 10th-round draft pick.

“It’s been my goal since I was a kid to play in the major leagues,” Griffin says. “I don’t plan on giving up on that goal. Baseball is the best game in the world to me.”