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Being with family is key for Grilli during holidays

There's no question 2013 has been a year Jason Grilli will never forget. After taking over the closer's role for the Pittsburgh Pirates, his 29 saves prior to the All-Star break earned him a trip to the Midsummer Classic at Citi Field in New York. And even though he suffered a strained flexor tendon in his pitching arm in late July, the right-hander was back working the ninth inning by season's end as the Pirates secured a National League Wild Card spot and advanced to the NL Division Series.

Like most baseball players, Grilli is spending as much quality time as possible with his family and friends right now, and the holidays provide a wonderful opportunity to do so. During PirateFest on Dec. 14-15, the 37-year-old shared his childhood memories of Christmas time in the Syracuse area (Baldwinsville, N.Y.) as well as his plans for celebrating the season with his wife, Danielle, and two young sons this time around.

Here's what he had to say: What do you remember most about celebrating the holidays when you were a boy?

Grilli: We had an awesome, really close-knit neighborhood. We lived on a cul-de-sac and my family and our neighbors, we were always together. For the Christmas holiday, we rotated and somebody different hosted each year. We exchanged gifts, and all of us kids, we'd be playing together. We'd stay up as late as we could and go to midnight mass. We always had a lot of fun. I just really remember the sense of community. That still rings loud in my ears. So you stayed up late? You didn't go to bed early so Santa Claus could stop by sooner?

Grilli: Well, I think our parents wanted to keep us up as late as possible so they wouldn't have to wake up at five in the morning on Christmas Day. You know? But with the excitement of kids, that didn't seem to work too well. What are your plans for this Christmas?

Grilli: We're going to do our own Christmas at my apartment here in Pittsburgh. We're trying to develop some traditions of our own. And we're also going to go back to Syracuse. My mom is going to have everyone over for Christmas Eve like we always do, and we're going to share the joys of being together and being reunited.

As you get older, it gets harder to try and keep those traditions together because families grow and people get displaced in different areas. I'm a big reason for that. I'm living in Florida. But coming to Pittsburgh for PirateFest and some of the other activities, when we get up in this area it's easy to drive over to Syracuse, weather permitting. That's really the biggest tradition around the holidays that I know is always special -- catching up, obviously with your family, but there are also family friends that you consider family. It's nice to touch base with them after all these years and all this time passing. When you were a kid, was there a particular Christmas gift you received that really blew you away?

Grilli: Yeah, I was a big G.I. Joe guy, so it was that seven-foot aircraft carrier. I think it was just that box. You know how they say, "Big things come in small packages?" Well, for me, man, it was the opposite. Seeing that huge box all wrapped that didn't even fit under the tree -- it was like off to the side -- was awesome. I was like, "Oh my God, Santa Claus got it and really listened to what I wanted." That was the ultimate Christmas because Santa Claus went above and beyond. You and your wife have two sons. Your toddler (Jayden) may not have a grasp of the holidays yet, but what about your five-year-old (Jayse)?

Grilli: This is the first time that he's really understanding who Santa Claus is and what happens. He enjoys the décor and the traditions he's seeing that we're developing around him. To just live the magical moments like that and experience that as a parent, there's no better feeling. The holidays are a special time because you don't have to do or think about much. You can just focus on family. I think I've talked to you here mainly about family. That's what means more to me than anything.

Jim Lachimia is a contributor to
Read More: Pittsburgh Pirates, Jason Grilli