TAMPA, Fla. — For Hall of Famer Fred McGriff to take a trip down memory lane, all it takes is a simple walk around the Jefferson baseball field.
“A lot has changed in how many years? Almost 40 years,” McGriff said. “So a lot has changed since 40 years.”
This is where McGriff solidified his status as a star player. Where he paved a major part of the path to the Baseball Hall of Fame. And where he once hit a dinger off another Tampa legend.
“Visualize Dwight Gooden pitching, OK, and we have a packed crowd,” he said. “We have scouts everywhere behind home plate because everybody came to see Dwight cause Dwight was throwing 94, 95 mph.”
Dwight was a big time name then. But so was McGriff. In fact, his name is all over the Jefferson High School baseball stadium. On the long list of alum to make it to the show, on a list of batting champions, and on the Dragons Hall of Fame wall. But there was a time McGriff’s name wasn’t on a Jefferson list — the roster former head coach Pop Cuesta used to post on the door to his office. Fred’s sophomore year, he didn’t make it.
“You get your little flashlight and uh oh, Fred McGriff is not on there,” he recalled. “You’re like, oh boy. But it turned out good, because I ended up going back to West Tampa Little League, where I was playing. So I finished my senior season playing West Tampa Little League and then I came back out the next year, my 11th grade year and tried out for the team.”
McGriff brought that humble nature to the pros where he spent 19 seasons in the majors with six different teams, including the Rays. He made it to the postseason five times and won a World Series with the Atlanta Braves. He quietly put up some eyebrow raising stats, including 493 home runs. It’s a resume that finally got him voted into the Hall of Fame.
“My goal was just play one day in the big leagues,” he said. “That’s it. Cause that’s every player’s goal, just to play in the big leagues. That’s it. So, to get inducted into the Hall of Fame, I mean, that’s icing on the cake.”
He loves sharing his journey. And as he watches over a Jefferson Dragons practice, he offers some advice. But mostly he’s just soaking in those memories that come flooding back when he stepped onto the field.
He put in a lot of time to perfect his craft. And that hard work has paid off with the highest honor a Major League Baseball player can achieve.
“I put a lot into this game,” McGriff said. “So to be able to say I’m a Hall of Famer, I’ve been blessed.”