Grenier dreams a big league dream
CORVALLIS — Nick Madrigal smiled when asked about the spectacular defensive handiwork of his middle-infield partner, Cadyn Grenier, in a see-it-to-believe-it double play the pair pulled off in Oregon State's 9-3 victory over Northwestern State to open the Corvallis regional.
"That was one of the more fun ones," said Madrigal, the junior second baseman who has been manning the middle with Grenier for three seasons. "Cadyn made an unbelievable play (to glove the ground ball). Not too many guys in the country get to that ball, and he made it look easy. We see that in practice every single day."
The following day, Oregon State coach Pat Casey was reminded of Grenier's flashy web gem.
"That was pretty good," said Casey, in his 24th season as the OSU skipper. "There's a reason why he was Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. He can defend at shortstop in the big leagues, for sure."
Grenier thinks so, as do the Baltimore Orioles, whose scouts were among many who watched him grace the Beavers infield the past three years. On Monday, the Orioles chose the 5-10, 190-pounder from Henderson, Nevada, with a first-round draft pick, No. 37 overall.
"My dream has always been to play in the big leagues," Grenier says. "You have to get through the minors first, though, and I'm focused on right now."
The third-seeded Beavers will open their best-of-three NCAA super regional at Corvallis with a 2 p.m. Friday game against No. 14 seed Minnesota.
"That's the great thing about Nick and Luke (Heimlich) and Trevor (Larnach) and so many of our guys — we're not looking past what we're doing right now," Grenier says.
For Grenier, that's a lot of good things. Besides succeeding Madrigal as the conference's defensive player of the year, he is one of five finalists for the Brooks Wallace Award as the nation's best shortstop.
"It's cool, but it's not like I sit there and think about those things," Grenier says. "I want to win. I believe I'm the best shortstop in the country. I try to play like it, and then let other people decide."
Grenier is in the running for the Brooks Wallace Award because of his improvement at the plate — from .240 as a freshman to .275 as a sophomore to a sterling .328 with 16 doubles, five home runs, 44 RBIs and a .415 on-base percentage this season. Grenier was second on the team with a .345 average in 30 Pac-12 games.
"There was an adjustment for him (to Division I pitching) as a freshman, but the improvement he has made offensively has been noticeable," Casey says. "He has become a better defender through the years, too, through natural progression and strength and a lot of hard work."
"It's just been growth and development," Grenier said. "That's one of the big reasons you go to college. It's how I've gauged my performance here. If I've gotten better over the three years, I've succeeded in doing what college is meant to do. I'm not going to win Golden Spikes (as the nation's top player), but every year, I got better. That's what it's about."
One of the most high-profile recruits in Oregon State history when he signed as a first-team USA Today All-American, Grenier hit .472 with six home runs, 66 runs scored and 27 stolen bases as a prep senior. He ended his career in storybook fashion, leading off the bottom of the ninth inning (in a scheduled seven-inning game) with a home run to give Bishop Gorman an 8-7 victory over Green Valley for the state championship.
Grenier — who had indicated he intended to play college ball — was chosen in the 21st round of the draft by St. Louis. Before they made the 23rd pick in the first round, however, the Cardinals were in contact with Grenier, offering bonus money of about $1.6 million if he would sign. They wound up taking outfielder Nick Plummer of Birmingham, Michigan, and signing him for a bonus figure of $2.14 million.
"They gave him slot money," Grenier said. "They were offering me under slot. That's one of the reasons I didn't take the offer. It's a business. I'm glad it all worked out for me."
Grenier gambled that college ball would be worth it. Has it been?
"I absolutely think so," he said. "Would I want to be an 18-year-old on a bus (in the minor leagues) with a lot of guys older than me, traveling in the middle of nowhere? Or be at Oregon State, getting to live in my own house, to be with a great group of guys and playing for Coach Casey?
"The experience I've gained, and being more comfortable as an 18-year-old in a new world, makes it all worth it. Now I'm three years older. I've been through a few summer balls, which is like a pro schedule. I've grown up a lot more. I'll be able to make all that work for me when I play pro ball."
Grenier said the greatest value of his time at Oregon State has been the relationships he has developed.
"I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed my teammates and the coaches and some of the people outside the program I've met and gotten to know," he said. "Those are the things that are important. I've loved it. I've been around a lot of good people.
"That's why the program is so successful. We have a lot of guys who care about each other. The coaches care about the players even more than winning championships. They want us to develop into the best players and men that we can be."
Grenier said the experience of playing at Goss Stadium has been "incredible."
"I've gotten to play in Omaha," he said. "I got to play in Charlotte (with Team USA) on July 4th in a park packed full of people. Goss is different. It's not 20,000 people, but it's 3,500 people who sound like 20,000. It's a really cool environment.
"I love that you walk out of the dugout after the game and kids are waiting for autographs and their parents are there to say hi and congratulate you. The community is just so supportive."
Grenier came to Oregon State to prepare for a pro baseball career, but he has taken his schoolwork seriously, too. A 3.9 student in high school, Grenier was recently named as an Academic All-District selection, and could be chosen as Academic All-American. A 3.68 student in psychology, he is taking all of his classes online, which requires a great deal of dedication.
"I haven't had an on-campus class since last fall," he said. "It's great for me. I love it. I don't have to get up and go to class. I can chill in the mornings. It does take a lot of responsibility. You need to take it upon yourself to get that assignment in tomorrow.
"I took a couple of online classes in high school, so it wasn't my first experience. I had an idea what (online classes) were like and what you had to do to succeed in them. It's 90 percent keeping track of what you have to get done and doing it in a timely manner."
Academics are important to Grenier, who intends to get his degree after he leaves Oregon State.
"I already have it mapped out," he said. "It's going to take me six or seven years, but it's going to get done. It's going to benefit me in the long run.
"We take a lot of pride in our academics, and that starts with Coach (Pat) Bailey and Coach Casey. It's so hard to be a student-athlete because of the time you have to put in with both. I could easily go though the motions and stay eligible with a 2.0, but that's not who I am, and not what we do here at Oregon State. That's something that's going to help me the rest of my life."
Madrigal, one of the nation's premier players, has combined with Grenier to form perhaps the greatest keystone combination in OSU history.
"We've gotten closer each season," Madrigal said. "We've been with each other so much. It's been a lot of fun — especially taking ground balls together, seeing the way he goes about his business. We've built a friendship that will last for a long time."
"Nick is another guy like me who will do anything to win," Grenier said. "He competes every day and every pitch. With a guy like that, with the skill set he has, it makes everybody better. He has made me better. I'm going to miss playing with him. Hopefully one day we can play side by side in the big leagues."
Grenier said he has gained much from his tutelage under Casey.
"Coach Casey is the ultimate competitor," Grenier said. "He eats, sleeps and breathes winning. When you play for him, you're expected to show up every day and give it everything you've got to win. If you get beat, you get beat, but you're going down swinging.
"He's such an inspirational guy. He can motivate anybody. Over the past three years, I've learned life lessons I'm never going to forget."
Among those lessons, Casey said, is to accept occasional failures.
"That's Cadyn's biggest challenge," the veteran coach said. "Sometimes, he gets down on himself. He makes things difficult because his expectations are so high. He holds himself to a standard that is almost impossible to reach. But he has improved on that, too."
Casey has had some great shortstops at OSU — Tyler Smith comes to mind — but the most pre-eminent have been Grenier and Darwin Barney.
"I never like to compare players who are so good," Casey said. "They're both very gifted players. Cadyn has more of a power body. They both have big-time arms. They're both explosive players. They're both winners."
Madrigal played some shortstop at OSU, too, but deferred to Grenier to help the team.
"Like Cadyn, Nick could play shortstop for any team in the country," Casey said. "If those guys (Grenier, Madrigal and Barney) had played in different eras, we'd probably be saying they were the three best shortstops ever to play at Oregon State."