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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

November 23, 2011 at 2:46 PM

Pedro Grifol on Greg Halman: “Our hearts are broken. Mine’s in pieces.”

halmanbro.jpg

This Associated Press photo, taken Nov. 5 in Utrecht, Netherlands, shows Greg Halman during his recent tour of Europe. His brother, Jason, who was arrested as a suspect in his stabbing death, is shown in the background left.

Here is the Mariners’ latest winter league update. And here’s a list of six players the Mariners have signed to minor-league contracts and invited to major-league spring training, including Luis Rodriguez.

I reached Pedro Grifol yesterday in Venezuela, where he is managing the Lara team in winter ball. His profound grief over the death of Greg Halman was overwhelming. In fact, he said that feeling is prevalent among his players in Venezuela who knew and played with Halman, like Johan Limonta.

“It’s a tough loss, man,” Grifol said. “It’s a tough loss for all of us. A couple of guys broke down yesterday (Monday). That kid came to us at 16 years old.”

Grifol is one of the Mariner personnel — along with the likes of Bob Engel, Roger Hansen, and a few others — who has been there with Halman virtually every step of the way, as either an instructor or administrator. Those who were the closest to Halman — and that includes former and current teammates — are the ones who are truly devastated by this news.

“Our heart is broken,” said Grifol, who was the M’s coordinator of instruction before becoming their farm director in 2008. “Mine’s in pieces. We all, as a staff, loved this kid. He wasn’t just a player. He was a kid we got here at 16. He was a baby. We all laid our hands on him, and he accepted all of us to be a part of where he was going. Everyone here got close to him, me in particular, and Roger as well. He doesn’t show emotions much, but I’m sure he feels the same way.”

Here are some more of Grifol’s memories of Halman, which I found quite poignant, and help illustrate the magnitude of this loss within the organization:

“I remember first time first saw him, back on Field 2 (at the Mariners complex in Peoria, Ariz). He came out and looked like a player then. All talent in world, a smile on his face. The work that this organization had put into him, and he in turn put back into the organization. The things we asked him to do he had done. Not just on the field; he became a leader, an influence in the clubhouse, a role model for young players. He spoke to the lower minor league guys this year. I think of when he came in at 16, and then look back this past spring — my proudest moment with him was, in spring training, watching him talk to our young minor-league players. He matured himself into a man. Watching him in the multi-purpose room speaking to the minor-league guys, it was incredible for me to watch, and for all the coaches who put good quality time into his development. He was doing the same thing in Amsterdam. He was on his way to becoming what we all thought he could be.

“He was one of those kids, when he first came in, he was a little stubborn and tough to deal with and get through to. Like most of the great ones are. We went to work, both on and off the field. With his character, just him listening and practicing what we were teaching him, he matured, and came a long, long way. That’s why he was chosen to talk. I think he came to me, and said, ‘Can I speak to the kids?’ I had told him once before, ‘When you’re ready to talk to these kids, let me know.’ This past spring, he came to me and said, ‘Can I speak to the guys?’ I said, absolutely, He spoke from the heart, his challenges coming up, how at times he was a little stubborn, and how he got through all that.

“He was role model. All of our guys, everyone liked him. I can’t remember one instant or one player who didn’t. It’s affected so many people. It puts into perspective what’s important.

“He spoke very highly of everyone in his family. They were all very, very close. They all loved each other. When he got to the big leagues, his mom came down with his brother and sister. He spoke highly of everyone in his family. I know he loved every single one of his family members.

“How good he was going to be at the big-league level, you can’t etch in stone. He could have gone from being a fourth outfielder for the rest of his life, or being an all-star for the rest of his life. That’s the type of talent he had. There were still some things he needed to figure out, some holes to work on, and he was in the process of doing that. If he figured those out, he would have been an All-Star as long as he wanted. If not, he still brought three major-league tools to the park every day — actually four, speed, his arm, defense and power. His ability to hit would determine whether he was an All-Star or a fourth outfielder.

“Character-wise and presence, I don’t think there’s any better. His presence in the clubhouse, everyone knows this guy was somebody. Character-wise, guys who knew him like I did and the coaches did, loved him. If you knew him, you loved him. (Jose) Castro ( a Mariners hitting instructor who is with Grifol in Venezuela) feels same way. We sent him to extended spring one year and had Castro to work wth him. I remeber seeing them working together and then leave together in a car. If you knew him the way we did, you loved him. You knew he was somebody. It’s a huge loss for the organization and it breaks my heart.”

(Recalling when Hansen flew to Amsterdam to meet with Halman and his family). “He had a difficult year in Double-A, and we needed to get some work done. He was a ittle frustrated in the year he had. We just wanted to get everyone on the same page, meaning us as an organization, him, his famly. We wanted everyone to understand, No. 1, the talent he had, and two, that everyone cared for him and wanted him to continue to work and not get frustrated with just a bad year. He had a couple of those, and fought through those together as an organization. That’s what it was for. Let’s get to meet his family and sit with them, and let them know we’re in this together; this could be something special. He has the talent to do a lot of special things.

“It was probably the best thing we did as an organzation, and the best thing for him. he knew, and everyone knew, his mom and dad, when Roger went and stayed five days, we’re in this together and trust us. That’s what happened. It elevated the trust not only him, but his family, had in us. For us, it gave us that reassurance we were all in this together, him, us, his family, and we were moving forward, and everyone was moving in the right direction. That’s what player development is about, what good organizations do. Do whatever it takes to make sure these type of talents continue to develop.”

“It’s a very, very tough loss for the industry, for the organization, for his friends, myself. It’s very tough to swallow. Twenty-four years old

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