When Jim Stoeckel signed Didi Gregorius for the Reds in 2007, there was no way to know Gregorius would become so popular that he'd receive a curtain call -- on the road -- while starring for the Yankees more than a decade later.
But when Stoeckel observed Gregorius as a teenager in Curacao, Stoeckel was sure of this much: If Gregorius became a baseball sensation -- and he has, for the record -- he would know how to handle the attention.
"He's the same guy he was in 2007," Stoeckel told MLB.com over the weekend in a telephone interview. "Whoever did the research for the Yankees on how to replace Derek Jeter, they couldn't have picked a better guy.
"I knew if he got a shot to play every day [in the Majors], he'd do OK, because he could handle failure. He'd go 0-for-4 and come in smiling the next day. He has a short memory, and he lives to play baseball."
Stoeckel worked as a baseball coach and executive for nearly four decades before retiring as the Reds' global scouting director after last season. His connection to the Gregorius family predates Didi by one generation.
By managing the Dutch national team in the early 1980s, Stoeckel became familiar with Johannes Gregorius, a Curacao native who pitched for the Amsterdam Pirates of the Netherlands' top league. Johannes went by a unique nickname: Didi.
Two decades later, Stoeckel traveled back to the Netherlands to evaluate players at The Kingdom Games -- an 18-and-under tournament featuring teams from Holland, Curacao and Aruba -- in his role with Cincinnati. He saw the Gregorius name on Curacao's roster.
"Is he any relation to Didi?" Stoeckel asked one of the Dutch officials.
"That's his son," came the reply.
Intrigued, Stoeckel observed Gregorius closely during the tournament and called Reds executive Terry Reynolds to arrange a private workout back in Curacao. At that session, Stoeckel remembered, "Didi put on a show. He played shortstop. He had a rangy body and a really good arm. He could put the ball in play left-handed, but he wasn't that great of a runner. He was 17, a year past signing age. I was curious why he didn't sign earlier."
After meeting with the Gregorius family, Stoeckel learned the reason: Didi's parents had wanted him to remain in school in Curacao. Didi's mother, Sheritsa, had played softball for the Dutch national team. In the end, Stoeckel's familiarity with Didi's father was a key factor in the Gregorius family becoming comfortable with the notion of their teenaged son turning pro.
"They told us, 'We know you, and we know the Reds, and if you bring him to instructional league in Sarasota this year, then you have a deal,'" Stoeckel recalled. Reynolds agreed. Gregorius signed for a $50,000 bonus.
"As soon as he got to Sarasota, everybody saw what we saw," Stoeckel said. "He was intense. He was committed. He comes from a great family. He has a great background. Nothing fazes him. He grew up with the core of those World Baseball Classic teams: Andrelton Simmons, Jonathan Schoop, Xander Bogaerts. They'd all played together before."
Based on Gregorius' lineage, it's somewhat surprising that he's gone on to find stardom as a position player, rather than on the mound. In addition to his father's pitching career, Didi's grandfather, Juan, stood "about 6-foot-7 and could hold nine baseballs in his hand," according to Stoeckel. In fact, Didi also threw off the mound during his seminal workout with Cincinnati, with his fastball ranging from 90-92 mph.
There was a Yankees connection in Gregorius' first contract with the Reds, even if it wasn't apparent at the time: Jeff Taylor, Cincinnati's scout involved in recommending the team sign Gregorius, also had signed Robert Eenhoorn while working for the Yanks in the 1990s.
Eenhoorn, a native of Rotterdam, Netherlands, was a reserve infielder for the Yankees just as Jeter ascended to the Majors. Two decades later, Gregorius was acquired as Jeter's successor.
So two Dutch infielders bookended Jeter's legendary career in New York, and the late Taylor was involved in signing both of them.
"Of all the guys they could've picked to replace Jeter, Didi was the perfect choice," Stoeckel said. "This is like replacing John Wooden. If I was going to pick anyone to walk into that situation, Didi would be the guy.
"If you look at history, he's had success everywhere he's been. He just keeps getting better. A lot of guys in pro sports are happy to get there. They don't think they have to work to get better. But you can do something to get better every day, and Didi knows that. That's the kind of guy you love on your team."