Greene driven by longtime friendship with Braves prospect

June 20th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Somewhere on Vaughn Grissom’s phone is a video of Riley Greene doing one of his more athletic feats. It was on the court, not the diamond. 

Before Greene and Grissom became MLB prospects -- Greene with the Tigers, Grissom with the Braves -- they were teenagers growing up in Oviedo, Fla., just northeast of Orlando. They were baseball standouts already, but when they weren’t working out on the diamond, they were hitting the court in pickup basketball games, either at school or at a local gym. 

Not only could Greene dunk, Grissom said, he could do highlight dunks. One of the dunks that Grissom captured was a between-the-legs jam. It was with a volleyball, not a basketball, but you get the idea. 

“We used to get picked up in open gym before some of the guys on the starting five in our high school,” Grissom said. “We would just run the floor. We just had fun with it. He could dunk, alley-oop.” 

It was a way to blow off steam away from the ballfield, but it was also another way to compete. And just as in baseball, Greene hated to lose.

“He's always just been the same kid,” Grissom said Friday, a few hours before Greene got the call for his Major League debut. "The same Riley you guys see today, I've seen since I was 12. He's always been ahead of the competition, always been a competitor.”

To this day, they’re among each other’s biggest supporters. While Greene made his Major League debut on Saturday, Grissom is the Braves’ No. 6 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

“We go back to middle school,” Greene said. “Vaughn's one of my best friends. We live five minutes away from each other, hang out all the time. I literally texted him [last week], because I saw a video of him hitting a homer and I was like, 'Man, keep going dude. You're doing great.' He looks really good.

“I'm truly happy for him just because we were on the same high school team, and seeing one of your buddies going out there and living his dream and doing really good, it's an awesome feeling.”

Grissom remembers watching Greene in Little League, where they were competitors before teammates. He was in the same tournament where Greene had a home run that became part of his legend in Oviedo: Greene homered off a pitch that was supposed to be part of an intentional walk. 

“I was actually watching the game. We had a game break,” Grissom said. “It was in the Holiday Classic in Oviedo. They gave him the four fingers, and he went across home plate and hit it to left field. He had always been on another level.” 

By then, Grissom said, most people already knew about Greene and his family. His father, Alan, was a hitting instructor who had worked with several kids in town. 

“Oviedo has always had his back,” Grissom said. “The whole family has been loved throughout Oviedo. His dad has caught the majority of kids in Oviedo. His mom is sweet. Everyone's family with the Greenes. Talk to everyone in Oviedo and it's the same thing. 

“His dad was a hitting coach, and I know the majority of kids went to go see him. I personally went to see him a couple times.”

Given that connection, it made sense that Riley would become a skilled hitter. But there was a drive beyond that, Grissom said, that has pushed him. 

“I think Riley's dad knew what he was capable of,” Grissom said. “And then Riley just had the hunger, too. He loved competing with himself. It's a personality thing. You can't teach what drives Riley. He has his own little motor.” 

Once they became teammates at Hagerty High School, Grissom said, it took about one round of batting practice for Greene to move up to the varsity squad. By then, he was already getting offers from major college programs, and pro scouts were paying attention.

While Greene was the fifth overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, Grissom was the Braves’ 11th-round pick. The shortstop entered Monday batting .296 with an .845 OPS at High-A Rome, but he keeps in touch regularly with Greene. They share their experiences of pro ball and advice on handling the challenges. In the offseason, they’ll hit together while also going out fishing. 

“He's a great friend,” Grissom said. “He calls me brother. I really feel like I'm his brother. Anytime we do something, it’s almost like I'm texting him and he says, ‘I was expecting that.’ 

“He's been really cool about helping me out, because he knows we're in different organizations with different goals. He does his best to say, 'Keep going.'” 

Given their spots, it’s conceivable they could eventually play against each other in the Major Leagues. If anything, they expect that. 

“But one thing we would like to do is play together,” Grissom said. “That would be a stamp on both our careers.”