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Latest Rays addition born for baseball

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By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Benjamin Grieve's crib was a major-league clubhouse. Paternal access. His dad, Tom, was Rangers general manager.

As the youngster matured, from sandlot baseball hero to Texas high school sensation, Ben benefited from daily brushes with talents, theories and tutoring of American League stars, among them Rafael Palmeiro and Nolan Ryan.

"It was a huge advantage, learning from the best," the 24-year-old outfielder said Thursday, posing for media cameras, slipping into his new business suit, Devil Rays uniform No. 18.

"I did the batboy thing for a while. My friends in school and kids I played baseball with were a bit jealous. Always asking, "What's it like being around Ryan, Palmeiro and (Ruben) Sierra?'

"They wondered if I was stockpiling autographs. Truth was, I would've never thought about asking those guys to sign anything. I was around them so much, I maybe took it for granted."

Ben is a big-leaguer now. The Oakland A's fact books say Grieve weighs 220 pounds, but his 6-foot-4 frame seems more lean. About 200, I would guess. "We have good clubhouse food," joked Rays managing general partner Vince Naimoli, "so we can maybe beef him up."

For three-plus seasons with the A's, Grieve's batting average was .281 with 303 runs batted in. His defense is flawed, his speed well shy of mercurial, but Tom's son swings a potent enough left-handed stick it should greatly enhance the D-Rays order alongside Greg Vaughn, Fred McGriff and Gerald Williams.

Oh, during his adolescence in Texas, bouncing around the stadium, offices and Port Charlotte spring training headquarters of the Rangers, gentle Ben would often run into George W. Bush, one of the team's owners for six seasons.

"I got to know him," said Grieve, who's low-key but high in manners. "Mr. Bush was really friendly. To me, he was like a favorite uncle who always liked to joke around. I would spend time with him in my dad's box at Rangers games, never dreaming he would become not only governor but president of the United States."

Bush invested $600,000 in the Rangers, then used his political savvy to urge passage of a bond issue that allowed building the Ballpark at Arlington, one of baseball's better facilities.

While he became infamous for trading Sammy Sosa, when Bush withdrew from Rangers ownership to run for Texas governor, his holdings were sold for between $15-million and $18-million. A profit of more than 2,500 percent.

A rich uncle.

Grieve, being so young, has gobs of time to improve, especially on the field. "I'll work at it," he promised. "I don't know how to get any faster, but more experience and improved techniques could certainly be assets."

Tampa Bay isn't rich enough as an AL franchise to chase an Alex Rodriguez with a $252-million deal. Tropicana Field attendance hasn't boomed to levels where a Manny Ramirez is reachable. Accepting that, Grieve is a solid addition who can help turn a C-minus offense into a C-plus. Maybe better.

"Ben Grieve is an impact player," general manager Chuck LaMar said, "and you win with impact players." Expect an outfield of Vaughn in left, Williams playing center and Grieve in right.

Manager Larry Rothschild had potential lineups bounding in his head. "We've added not only punch but versatility that allows me to have Steve Cox spell McGriff at first base or Greg in leftfield. Also using those guys in the DH mix."

Cox is a close pal of Grieve. "Upon hearing about me being traded to Tampa Bay," No. 18 said, "Steve was the first person I called. It'd been a shock at first, but I began feeling better about the future. It's good to already have such a great friend. How close? Cox was in my wedding last May."

Ben's wife, Kathy, was working in the A's front office when Grieve showed up late in the 1997 season. "It took a couple of years before we were ready to get married," he said, "but now everything is going really well.

"Kathy was eager to leave the A's organization and return to school. With some urging, she wound up at the University of Texas in Austin. Now we're married and just built a new house in Arlington."

Ironically, in the Baseball Encyclopedia, an alphabetical listing of anybody who's ever played a minute in the major leagues, the Grieves, Ben and then Tom, are listed just ahead of the Griffeys, the gifted Junior and quite-accomplished Ken Sr.

Ben's father was an AL outfielder nine seasons, first with the Senators, then six years with the Rangers after the old Washington franchise relocated to Texas. He spent time with the Mets and Cardinals before retiring.

Tom Grieve, a lifetime .249 hitter, became a personnel wizard and eventually Rangers general manager (1984-94). He is now a television commentator for the Texas team.

They're hardly the Griffeys, but Tom and Ben are impressive baseball people, each in his own way. D-Rays pockets weren't deep enough to compete for Junior Griffey, but Ben Grieve was in their price range and could be a bargain by distorted 2001 standards.

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