If you are looking for a pitcher with the perfect mentality to handle a grand total of 133 minutes in rain delays on one of the most important days in his young baseball life then you will wish to schedule JASON GRILLI, the son of a real baseball lifer who never let a little bad timing sour him on this grand game of baseball. "When I retired," said STEVE GRILLI, now a top scout with the St. Louis Cardinals, "I was one day short of qualifying for the major league pension plan. It was just a technicality and the rules were pretty confusing then, but that's the bottom line. One more day on a major league roster is all I needed. I wonder if Jason would loan me one of his ?"

That would then be a perfect symmetry, a diamond fable worthy of retelling over a lifetime of rain delays. Until Jason Grilli made the opening day roster for the current edition of the Florida Marlins one day of major league service is exactly what he owned. No more, no less. In May of last season he was called up from the Calgary Cannons, their AAA club in the Pacific Coast League, for an emergency start, where he defeated Kevin Millwood, and his Atlanta Braves, despite allowing 11 hits in 6 2/3 innings. He drove in a run, too, but then it was back to the minors with his 1-0 record and his .500 career batting average and a pain in his pitching elbow that then threatened to freeze those numbers in place forever.

"They had Dr. James Andrews do the surgery and he's the best in the business," Steve Grilli said three weeks ago at an exhibition game, played at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, in which his son was working, "but still you worry because if a pitcher doesn't have his arm, he's go nothing." In that case, the Marlins, would have gotten nothing, too, in exchange for the 1997 World Series Most Valuable Player, Livan Hernandez. Grilli and a minor league pitcher were on the anonymous side of that budget-driven trade with the San Francisco Giants. However, this story is still headed in the right direction, notwithstanding the 2 1/2 inch screw in Jason Grilli's right elbow. Presently the young hurler is the No. 4 starter until a more experienced pitcher returns from the disabled list at the end of April, at the earliest.

Recently he took on Greg Maddux, who has twice as many Cy Young Awards (4) as Grilli has major league starts (2) and he looked great until a three-run rally knocked him out in the sixth. That's when the Braves finally got a feel for his changeup and when Grilli started struggling with his control, too, walking two in the inning. Still, the Marlins manager, John Boles, showed an amazing amount of confidence, waiting until Grilli had let one run in and then loaded the bases, before getting anyone up in the bullpen. A pinch-hit single by Javier Lopez proved to be the killer, driving in two runs for a 3-0 Atlanta lead, and the night then ended right there for Grilli with a lonely walk to the dugout and a warm round of applause from Marlins fans who really don't know him yet. At this rate, they soon will, and Jason Grilli will get more comfortable in a major league uniform, too. Walking off the mound after three scoreless innings, Grilli allowed himself a small fist pump, the kind of thing Maddux might do at the end of a complete-game shutout. In October. In the World Series.

For Jason Grilli, at age 24, April is more than enough for now. Even the dirt looks pretty special to him, as a matter of fact. He's collecting little samples of it from every pitching mound where he and his father have worked. To this point it's a rather small collection being a handful of clay from Joker Marchant Stadium, the Spring Training home of the Detroit Tigers, in Lakeland, and another from the AAA park in Syracuse where Steve Grilli opened a well-known tavern over 20 years ago at the end of his baseball career. "Best wings in Syracuse," says Steve Grilli, who had a young Jason chopping celery in the kitchen as a teenager. "Just ask anybody up there." Ask them about baseball, too. They both are extremely patient. Steve who pitched in 70 games for the Tigers and Blue Jays, and Jason, who's now pitched in two for the Marlins.

The drought hasn't quite broken in South Florida as yet, however it may finally be breaking for them. Keep watching.

Special to CANADIAN BASEBALL NEWS - April 2001

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