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Didi has developed into true renaissance man

@ToddZolecki
March 2, 2020

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Didi Gregorius cradled a camera in his hands last week at Spectrum Field as he scanned the field from the top steps of the Phillies dugout. He turned the lens toward Vince Velasquez. Gregorius focused and snapped a few photos. It looked like a camera he

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Didi Gregorius cradled a camera in his hands last week at Spectrum Field as he scanned the field from the top steps of the Phillies dugout. He turned the lens toward Vince Velasquez. Gregorius focused and snapped a few photos.

It looked like a camera he might have borrowed from one of the photographers who has been shooting the Phillies this spring. Occasionally, players grab a camera and take photos as a lark, breaking up the monotony of camp. But the Sony Alpha A9 with the 70-200 mm lens was not a camera Gregorius borrowed for a laugh. It was his. He was not taking photos as a goof. He was taking photos because it is one of his passions.

“I try not to do just one thing -- just play baseball,” Gregorius said. “There’s life after baseball and there’s life besides baseball, like right now. I just want to keep improving on everything I do in life and try to get better. I mean, that’s the only way to go about it.”

The Phillies signed Gregorius, 30, to a one-year, $14 million contract in December as an upgrade offensively in the middle of the lineup and defensively at shortstop. But the Phillies got more than an All-Star-caliber infielder. They got one of the more interesting players in baseball.

Gregorius was born in Amsterdam but grew up in Curaçao, an island in the Caribbean that was a Dutch territory until 2010. The Netherlands knighted him as a member of Order of Orange-Nassau after he helped them beat Cuba in the 2011 Baseball World Cup. He speaks Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamento, which is not a big deal to him because he said anybody can learn multiple languages if they try. He started to learn Japanese when he played with the Yankees, absorbing just enough to have conversations with teammate Masahiro Tanaka.

Again, no big deal.

Gregorius draws. He animates. He makes videos. He shoots and edits photos. He plays piano, which he taught himself to do while he recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2018.

“He’s creative,” said Joe Girardi, who managed him with the Yankees. “I’d see him doing stuff on the plane all the time. A lot of guys are playing cards or watching movies. Didi would be drawing.”

“It’s amazing what he can do,” Velasquez said. “Those [photos] were awesome. I love the fact that he’s into that. It’s fascinating. He’s a talented guy.”

Asked if he ever had his IQ tested, Gregorius seemed puzzled. Why would he do that?

Don’t you need to be pretty smart to be proficient at so many things?

“No,” Gregorius said. “I think everybody is smart.”

Well, not everybody is smart, a cynic replied.

“It’s up to you about what you want to do,” Gregorius replied. “I always looked at the piano like, 'I will never play the piano.' But I had Tommy John surgery and I started to play the piano.”

Gregorius posted a video on Instagram of himself playing John Legend’s “All of Me” from a hotel lobby in London when the Yankees played the Red Sox there in 2019. Gregorius cannot read music and cannot play by ear. He learned the song by watching Legend play the piano and figuring out how to move his fingers across the keys like him.

Gregorius is now trying to play Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.”

“Trying,” he said. “Key word -- trying.”

Gregorius did not just learn piano while he recovered from Tommy John surgery. He created an animation of himself hitting a home run that took 3 1/2 months and 1,000 digital layers to complete. The animated movie “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” inspired him.

Gregorius could always draw. He took a drawing class when he was 10 or 11. The teacher put a teddy bear in the middle of the room and asked everybody to draw it. The teacher moved around the room, examining everybody’s work. Gregorius finished by the time the teacher reached him.

“You shouldn’t be in this class,” the teacher said.

Gregorius never returned. He draws pictures of teammates when they get called up to the big leagues. He designs cleats used for Players’ Weekend. He has not sold anything, but he has donated a few things to charity.

“Anything I can try to do I’ll do,” he said.

Didi Gregorius has a wide variety of interests, including photography. Miles Kennedy/Phillies

Gregorius said he isn't doing these things as stress relievers. He isn't doing these things to connect with teammates.

He does them because they interest him.

“Life is short,” Gregorius said. “You might as well enjoy it while you can. I’m trying to get as much as I can out of it.”

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .