White Sox manager Pedro Grifol spent 13 seasons in the Mariners’ organization and 10 in the Royals’ organization.

White Sox manager Pedro Grifol spent 13 seasons in the Mariners’ organization and 10 in the Royals’ organization.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

Pedro Grifol: A journey, man, for family man

With the support of his wife and daughters, the new White Sox manager took a long road to get here, but his perseverance paid off.

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Pedro Grifol finally arrived. After a journey fraught with trials and tests of patience and consummated with perseverance, his two decades-plus of toiling in the baseball life finally paid off.

On Nov. 3, 2022, he was hired by the White Sox to be their 42nd manager, replacing Hall of Famer Tony La Russa.

It’s what Grifol always wanted, always worked for. To one side but not too far away as he was introduced sat his wife and three adult daughters. Just a few words into his opening statement after general manager Rick Hahn helped him put on a No. 5 jersey at a Guaranteed Rate Field news conference, Grifol thanked his family.

“Thank God I have them right there,” Grifol, 53, said, “and that they just made all the sacrifices in the world for me to continue to do this. And here we are.”

“Here” is the manager’s chair of a major-league team in a major city. Grifol is the fourth Latino manager in the major leagues and the Sox’ first skipper not to have played in the major leagues since Terry Bevington in the mid-1990s. An All-America catcher out of Florida State drafted by the Twins in the sixth round in 1991, Grifol made it as high as Triple-A as a catcher in the Mets’ organization.

His next career is going much better.

“It didn’t matter if it was the minor leagues or the big leagues; I wanted to manage,” Grifol said. “This game has a tendency to kind of grab you and take you other places, and if you don’t check yourself, you’re going to end up somewhere where your passion doesn’t sit, right? That’s where I was. This game took me into the scouting world, then it brought me back to managing.”

Grifol’s journey dropped him off at baseball jobs that helped shape him for this one, but all the while he was in those, he knew where he belonged:

“It’s here on the field; it’s wearing this uniform.”

Hahn is sure of it. Sox fans unhappy with how the team’s rebuild went off the rails the last two seasons hope so. In Grifol’s résumé, they trust.

The Royals’ bench coach the previous three seasons and part of two pennant-winning staffs in K.C., Grifol was that organization’s quality-control and catching coach (2018-19), catching coach (2014-17), special-assignment and hitting coach (2013-14) and Arizona Rookie League hitting coach (2013). Before joining the Royals, he spent 13 seasons (2000-12) in the Mariners’ organization, including one as manager at Class A High Desert in 2012. He was a scout, director of minor-league operations, coordinator of instruction and major-league coach with Seattle. And he managed four seasons in the Venezuelan and Dominican winter leagues.

The profile pales to bigger-name options that were out there, but the dues have been paid, and an opportunity presented itself on the South Side after interviews with the Marlins this offseason, the Tigers in 2020, the Giants in 2019 and the Orioles in 2018 didn’t produce a job offer.

And now Grifol is about to embark on his first major-league game March 30 in Houston, not just as a manager but one leading a team with postseason aspirations.

“That’s the one thing I never expected. Ever,” he told the Sun-Times in the manager’s office chair at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona, after spring-training workouts and drills one recent afternoon. “Ninety percent of the time, a new manager comes in to a rebuilding year. And when this job came open and they called me for an interview, I knew this wasn’t a rebuilding situation. God does things for a reason. I’m not going to shy away from the expectations and letting them hear the expectations in the industry of us. We’re expected to win.”

Grifol inherited a team that was expected to win but played poorly under La Russa the season before. An exercise in fundamentally clean baseball, 2022 was not.

Fans are watching to see what Grifol can do differently at the helm. Hahn believes he can make a difference.

“He knocked our socks off” in his first interview session with the front office, Hahn said.

In public, Grifol isn’t shouting World Series or bust, but his players came to camp with October baseball as the objective, carrying a collective chip on their shoulders after last season’s 81-81 dud. In many respects, it’s as ideal a situation for Grifol as it can be: lower expectations from the outside with a roster good enough, on paper, to win.

“I’m not going to allow it to add any more pressure on me or them; I just want them to be themselves,” Grifol said. “Just fearless, man. Just go play like you’re playing in your backyard or wherever you had the most fun in your life and try to duplicate it out here. And see what happens.”

‘That’s our field now’

Ali and Pedro Grifol, their three young adult daughters, son-in-law, future son-in-law and Ali’s mother are en route to Guaranteed Rate Field for the news conference announcing the Sox’ new manager. They are in two vehicles, a group text is ongoing and the emotions are almost overwhelming. Pedro and Ali are in a car with daughter Amanda and her husband, Hugo Fauroux.

As they get off the Dan Ryan Expressway in view of Guaranteed Rate Field, Ali’s butterflies are in full force:

“We said, ‘That’s our field now.’ 

“We looked at each other like, ‘Is this really happening?’ It was a dream come true.”

White Sox manager Pedro Grifol at Guaranteed Rate Field.

White Sox manager Pedro Grifol at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Pedro’s commitment to realizing his dream of being a manager had finally reached its payoff, after “sweat and hard work” and the sacrifice of being away from family, Ali said, and baseball years in various jobs that took him away from their home.

As Grifol pointed out the day he was hired, his wife and kids supported every effort, encouraging him to go for his dream.

“It was very satisfying,’’ Ali said. ‘‘All that hard work and faith you have in God and each other, and for the girls to witness it at 19, 25 and almost 28, for them it’s look at what this hard work has done. The girls in their paths that they’re on, they look at this, you’ve seen it through your whole lives. It was our goal as a family. So it was a very fulfilling moment.”

Ali was a 10th-grader at St. Brendan Catholic High School in Miami when she met Pedro, an 11th-grader at Christopher Columbus Catholic High, the school next door.

“He was very driven at that time,” Ali said. “I knew right off the bat.”

She knew when they didn’t attend senior prom because Pedro had a baseball game that weekend.

“Absolutely not,” Ali said. “And I got it; I understood it. There wasn’t even a thought. He was very focused. That’s who I met, someone who was focused and driven at such a young age. It’s pretty amazing to be on the journey with him, everything we went through.”

They were married seven years later and will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary next year.

His family was the first thing Grifol brought up at the news conference.

“High school sweetheart. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her,” Grifol said, “and, really, my daughters.”

He was away a lot, playing, coaching, working other baseball jobs and managing a winter team in Venezuela, which was particularly hard. But he was present with Lauren (now 28), Amanda (25) and Camila (19), Ali said.

“He made a lot of effort to be in communication, always building on relationships,” Ali said. “He wouldn’t ask, ‘What’s going on with the girls?’ No, he was talking to them a couple of times a day, shooting a text, a little quick FaceTime. It wasn’t like out of sight, out of mind, no. The girls all have great relationships. If you ask which one is daddy’s girl, all three of them are. Which is fantastic.”

Amanda and Fauroux, a goalkeeper for Loudoun United FC of the USL, are expecting Pedro and Ali’s first grandchild, a boy, in June.

‘Is this really happening?’ 

Pedro had built up experience interviewing for manager jobs, but as he met with Hahn and assistant GMs Chris Getz and Jeremy Haber, “it felt like they were just talking and already working together,” Ali said.

“He would tell me after each interview, ‘This is great.’ The format was not like a drilling-question kind of thing, like he had been through in the past. He felt like they were already working together in their conversations, and that had never happened. And the next step was fantastic. He said: ‘I feel like I’ve known these people forever. It was baseball, but the format was very relaxed.’

“When he told me that the job was ours, we just, obviously, the tears. Our girls were on a cruise at the time and FaceTiming constantly in private because it was so hush-hush. We were screaming, like, ‘Oh, my God, is this really happening?’ ’’

It was during the World Series when Grifol got the call from Hahn, confirming the job was his. From his backyard, he looked across the way at his wife, smiled and pumped his fist.

“After that, I couldn’t talk because it was in the middle of the World Series,” said Grifol, whose phone was filled with texts and voicemails from friends who knew he was a finalist. “I didn’t want it to leak. I take pride in, when somebody tells me something, I just keep it to myself. I was just happy, and I don’t think it leaked for four or five days. That’s pretty good.”

‘Our principles aligned’

The Sox could’ve pursued a bigger name, but everywhere you ask about Grifol, you get a thumbs-up on the person the Sox hired.

“I thought he was ready years ago,” said Eddie Rodriguez, who will be Grifol’s third-base coach, “and I know he’s ready now.”

Grifol says the Sox just felt right.

‘‘During the interviews, our principles aligned,” he said.

White Sox manager Pedro Grifol talks to general manager Rick Hahn at spring training.

White Sox manager Pedro Grifol talks to general manager Rick Hahn at spring training.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

“In our conversations, it wasn’t like we didn’t disagree because we did on a few things, but I just think they were themselves and I was myself and we clicked. The worst thing you can do in an interview is try to be someone else and say what you think they want to hear.

“This is a really good organization, and by that I mean there are some really good people here. There’s some loyalty here, which is a sign of a good one. There is creativity here. And there is a growth mindset. This organization is full of learners, people who want to get better. And we just aligned. That’s what interviews are. There are really smart people out there interviewing for jobs, but you just have to align.”

Grifol says he would’ve accepted previous offers, if made, to manage but, because they didn’t align like the Sox did, ‘‘I was like, ‘Ah, it’s OK if I don’t get it.’

“This one I was like, ‘I hope I get this.’ It just felt right. Like, we can really work together. And do this thing together. It felt like this would be a partnership, not a dictatorship. Right away, it felt good.”

In the end, it will take more than good feelings for Grifol to prove he was the right choice.

“Just give us a chance,” he said.

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