While in Syracuse earlier this week, I was able to catch up with an old friend, pitcher Danny Graves who signed with the Minnesota Twins this past off-season and is pitching for the Rochester Red Wings.
The term “old friend,” however, is kind of a misnomer when you’re talking about “Gravy.”
I first met him back in the January 1996 when he was one of a dozen participants in the Cleveland Indians’ inaugural Winter Development Program. Just 22 at the time and one of the club’s top prospects, his gregarious personality stood out and made him an immediate favorite, kind of like everyone’s kid brother.
He went on, as you probably know, to enjoy significant big league success as a closer, primarily after being traded to Cincinnati (where he had four seasons in which he saved 30 or more games, including a 41-save campaign).
He also became the first Major League to have been born in Vietnam, a heritage of which he has always been very proud (his mom is Vietnamese and met his dad when he was stationed there during the war).
Because my job is — and pretty much always has been — covering the Minor Leagues, one of the weird downsides is that I tend to lose touch with some of my favorite guys when they become “successful” because I don’t get out to many big league games. So it’s sort of strange, then, when I DO see them, because on the one hand I am happy to reconnect but on the other hand, I’m sure they don’t really want to be in the Minors at this point.
But I have a feeling that Graves won’t be in the Minors much longer. After some struggles in 2005-2006 he regrouped in the independent Atlantic League last summer, leading the loop with 33 saves for the Long Island Ducks, and the Twins took notice.
Now, I KNOW that I look pretty much every minute of the 12 years that I’ve aged since I met Graves. But Gravy? Although the calendar says he’ll be 35 this summer, he looks exactly like he did at 22.
Except maybe a few more tattoos.