Didi Gregorius played solid and often spectacular defense for the Diamondbacks and hit .252/.332/.373, but finds himself locked in a position battle for shortstop in Phoenix heading into the 2014 season. Defense is a priority for the 24-year old from the small Caribbean island of Curaçao, also home to Braves standout defensive shortstop Andrelton Simmons. We caught up with the easygoing Gregorius during Curaçao Baseball Week in November to talk about coming home to Curaçao, being a defensive standout and what’s ahead in 2014.
Amanda Rykoff: What players inspired you growing up?
Didi Gregorius: Growing up I had a lot of players, I’m not going to lie. Ken Griffey, Jimmy Rollins, Barry Bonds, Pokey Reese. But Andruw Jones though was all we knew when I was little, just looking at these guys, just trying to be there and trying to enjoy it.
Amanda Rykoff: How much pride do you take in your defense?
Didi Gregorius: I wouldn’t say pride because I work hard at it but I just go out there and try and make every play and take ground balls seriously. I take a lot of ground balls to try and get better. Same thing with hitting, too. They say I’m really good at defense but I think I can be better, so I’m going to work harder to try and improve every year, so that’s the main thing for me.
Amanda Rykoff: What does it mean for you to be back here and being a role model?
Didi Gregorius: For me it’s just awesome. Since I was little you always want someone to look at, so now I can be that guy. I want to give them a good impression and explain to them how everything is and to open their eyes a little bit more and see how they see the game and explain to them. For me, playing with these guys, even the guys my age and a little bit older than me, they gave me a lot of experience in how to play the game. Mainly to relax and play the game a little bit better instead of stressing and being frustrated the whole time. For me, the one thing they told me is to control your breathing and try and stay relaxed and play the game.
Amanda Rykoff: What advice will you have for the kids?
Didi Gregorius: About baseball, I would tell them finish school first, but after that if you want to do sports if you want to go seriously at it, just go do it. Don’t do it and then back out and then maybe try later. Work hard at something, you might accomplish something.
Amanda Rykoff: What’s it like watching Paul Goldschmidt play every day?
Didi Gregorius: He’s unbelievable [laughing], I’m not going to lie. Goldschmidt is just a hitting machine. They have “Goldy Goldy Gone!” and he’s the man. He was the guy the whole year. He wasn’t just the first half or the second half, he was producing the whole year. You can see his numbers. He’s just unbelievable. And a really good guy, too.
Amanda Rykoff: What’s it like playing for Kirk Gibson?
Didi Gregorius: It’s really good. Just like I said before when talking to older people, I mean I would say mature, they’ve played the game before, I wouldn’t say old, experienced people, they give you some experience too how they see the game when they played and now give you some techniques that can help you. I really like it.
Amanda Rykoff: What pieces of memorabilia have you collected?
Didi Gregorius: I have first home run ball and the bat. I also had the whole team sign the bat for me. That one is going to my Dad because he really enjoyed it. The Mother’s Day stuff I give it to my mom. I try and give back to my family — they’ve supported me since the minor leagues. They came out and saw me play.
Amanda Rykoff: What is the song on your iPod you don’t want anybody to know about?
Didi Gregorius: I don’t even have an iPod I’m not going to lie [laughs]. I have songs on my phone that I play in my car. I always have good songs, nothing bad. I don’t have bad songs.
Amanda Rykoff: What is it about learning to play in Curaçao that puts that emphasis on defense?
Didi Gregorius: To be honest, in the states, they have grass and grass infield and everything, but here in Curaçao it’s just dirt, so for us, like making the transfer from dirt and go to the grass, it makes it a lot easier for us, because now we don’t have a lot of bad hops in the infield with grass but we did have them in Curaçao. Now they’re putting turf here in Curaçao. You see how the baseball is getting better here because when we were little growing up, me and Simmy played on the same team, and we called him a vacuum machine because it doesn’t matter where he plays, he’s just going to pick it. That’s how he was when he was little and he’s still the same. That’s the thing, it’s not a surprise that he won a Gold Glove, it’s not a surprise, because we knew here that he’s a really good defensive player and he could really play defense, so it’s not a surprise that he won everything in the National League so for me to say that transferring from dirt to grass makes it a lot better for us.
Amanda Rykoff: How much do you follow the other players from Curaçao?
Didi Gregorius: You’ve got to follow your teammates. We’ve been seeing them play, they see us, we are supporting each other. In general, in Curaçao we had a good year, everybody’s producing no matter the place. It was just eye-opening so everybody would see oh we have a small island but we got some talent coming out of here, so it’s really good.
Amanda Rykoff: What’s your goal for 2014?
Didi Gregorius: Just trying to be best at everything I can do. And get a ring or something. That’s why we play 162 games and more if you get to the series and playoffs. For me, just trying to get there and go with it.