Banners on the Parkway continues its player profile interviews with the 2019 Xavier Musketeer baseball team. Next up, junior pitcher and designated hitter from McLean Virginia, Conor Grammes.
It was February 2016 and the Virginia Group 6A State Wrestling Championships were down to a handful of survivors. The 160 lbs. senior, Grammes, was in a dog fight with a kid he had first competed against as a six-year-old, some 12 years earlier. If he lost, he was going home. Grammes toughed it out and won 4-3 in the semis, before eventually winning the final for his second VA State Wrestling Championship in as many years. Seven months later, McLean’s High School’s Most Outstanding Male Athlete, Conor Grammes, arrived at Xavier University to start his collegiate academic and sports career, not in wrestling, but in baseball.
Grammes’ impact was felt immediately his freshman year at Xavier. He led the team in hitting with a .341 batting average, slugged .500 and ranked fourth in hits in the Big East with 79 in 232 at bats. He made the Big East All-Tournament Team as well as the Big East All-Academic Team. If that’s not impressive enough, after pitching a total of 3 innings in high school, 19 year old Grammes pitched 25.2 innings out of the Xavier bullpen, striking out an average of 6.67 opposing hitters per nine innings. His fastball velocity was already in the low 90’s.
There was no sophomore jinx for Grammes at Xavier. He hit .330, raised his slugging percentage to .517 and was second on the team with 10 home runs. Grammes pitched in 18 games for Xavier and recorded an eye popping average of 14.46 K’s per nine innings. His velocity continued to improve and now sits at 94-97 mph. He even tipped the radar gun at 99 miles per hour during one game. Not surprising, more and more MLB scouts were now showing up at Hayden Field to watch Grammes pitch.
We caught up with the 6’1”, 200 lbs., right-handed hitter and pitcher Grammes just weeks before Xavier opens up their 2019 season in Chapel Hill against the University of North Carolina. Grammes shared his thoughts on his wrestling career, expectations for the 2019 Xavier baseball season and being drafted to play professional ball.
Banners on the Parkway: Thanks for your time Conor. First off, tell me a little bit about your wrestling career. How did you get started in the sport?
Grammes: I started wrestling when I was six-years-old, my dad got me into it. He was a wrestler all through high school, so it was really part of my life all the way up until college. I just think there are so many life lessons it (wrestling) teaches you; how to be a tough competitor, how to be mentally strong. It’s helped me as a baseball player and as a man. It’s not something I truly enjoyed my entire life just because of how difficult the actual sport is. That being said, I’m very glad I pushed through it, I think I’m a better person because of it.
Banners on the Parkway: What was it like being able to compete on the same team as your younger brother, Brendan who also was a 2-time Virginia State Wrestling Champion?
Grammes: It was awesome having him on the team. Our wrestling team my junior and senior year was really close. I still go back there every break and talk with my coaches, they are still super close with my family. They come over to my house all the time and I try to keep in touch with them as much as I can. They are just awesome people.
Banners on the Parkway: How did baseball fit into the time it took you to reach such a high level of wrestling?
Grammes: Baseball has always been my passion. I played baseball three seasons. I played summer, spring and fall and then once fall ended I would pretty much shut out baseball until the beginning of the spring. Baseball was always my primary focus and then wrestling was kind of my secondary sport.
Banners on the Parkway: How in the world did Coach O’Conner find you and what was the recruiting process like for you?
Grammes: The recruiting process was difficult for me, I had no offers. Halfway through my junior summer, I was mailing coaches left and right and really just looking for a place to play. I e-mailed Coach Otte, Coach Googs (Googins) and a Coach Hayden who didn't even exist. Coincidentally, Billy (Coach O’Conner) happened to be in the room when Coach Otte had my e-mail pulled up. Billy actually e-mailed me back saying we don’t have any scholarship money, but you seem like you could be a good fit for this program. He said, if I came up and took a visit, they could get to know me. I wanted to play so bad and I didn't really have any other options, so I said let’s do it. I came up to visit, met with some of the guys and they offered me a roster spot. It seemed like a great fit, so I took it and I’m really glad I did.
Banners on the Parkway: That’s a great story Conor. Now going into your junior year, how has the experience been for you at Xavier, both academically and with baseball?
Grammes: It’s just been absolutely incredible. I wouldn't change it for the world, both on and off the field. Off the field, I love the school. The relationships that I have made here with friends will be incredible life-long type relationships. The school is great; my professors are awesome and I love the material that I’m learning. It’s just been a fantastic fit.
Baseball wise, it’s been more than I could possibly ask for. The coaching staff has been unbelievable. I’ve had 10 coaches since I’ve been here and I have absolutely loved every single one of them, especially Billy (Coach O’Conner). I think he, more than anyone else, truly helped me become the current baseball player I am. With all the resources that we have, it’s just a fantastic environment if you want to up your game and play at the next level.
Banners on the Parkway: I know you are slated to pitch and DH this year. Let’s start with pitching, what are some of your goals on the mound in 2019?
Grammes: My primary goal this year is to have consistency. My pitching numbers my freshman and sophomore years weren’t great, in my personal opinion. I’ve had a hard time finding the strike zone and my mechanics have been really bad. That was why I wasn't having a lot of success and I was walking a lot of guys. It’s tough to have a good ERA and not give up runs when you’re giving out free passes. That’s my biggest thing. I worked a bunch on it this summer and fall, honing in on my mechanics and delivery. I think I have made some really big adjustments. I thought I had a great fall and I’m trying to hit the ground running this spring and moving into the season.
Banners on the Parkway: You are coming off two terrific years at the plate, what are your goals for 2019?
Grammes: My goal at the plate is to hit .400 this spring with 20 bombs. You have to shoot for the stars. I feel like I had a great summer at the plate. I really started upping my power numbers and I’m feeling really good where I’m at right now. I’m feeling super confident. Every year I go through a 20-25 at bat period that really kills me. I go one or two for twenty-five. If I could eliminate that from my season, my numbers would be completely different. A lot of that is not letting failure affect me, which is something I continue to work on every single day. I’m a super competitive person and I hate failing in general. I want to be able to fail, because it’s going to happen, and not let it continue to affect future performance. I think if I can do that throughout an entire year, I think those numbers are very realistic for me.
Banners on the Parkway: You mentioned the summer, how was your experience playing on Cape Cod with some of the best collegiate competition in the country? I know you appeared in 7 games on the mound and had 79 at bats. You led the team (Brewster Whitecaps) in home runs with seven.
Grammes: It was awesome being able to compete against some of the best guys in college baseball. It was a huge confidence booster for me being able to go up there and compete with all those guys. I came out of it thinking, I’m just as good as any of these guys. My coaching staff was awesome and the environment was great.
Banners on the Parkway: I know expectations are pretty high for Xavier this year. What are your team goals for 2019?
Grammes: Forty wins, Big East Champion, NCAA Regional Champion, go to a Super Regional and if Omaha follows, that would be awesome. I think this is the best team Xavier has assembled, ever. I think we are pretty stacked this year and have the pieces to do it. It’s just a matter of taking care of business, not getting too ahead of ourselves, and just trusting the process.
Banners on the Parkway: Moving on to professional baseball. You were drafted in the 35th round by the Baltimore Orioles as a draft eligible sophomore last year. What was the process like for you and your family? I’m sure it was exciting but also a little bit stressful as well.
Grammes: Yes, tell me about it, emphasis on stressful for sure. It was a long process and I feel like I was thrown into it out of nowhere. I was not highly recruited out of high school, whatsoever. I had a hard-enough time trying to get college teams on me, let alone the MLB draft guys. I was really thrown into the fire and it was definitely a stressful situation. With that being said, I’m really glad I went through it last year. But, I’m happy that I wasn’t drafted higher, to be completely honest. I’m glad that I get to comeback another year and hopefully get drafted a lot higher.
Banners on the Parkway: Who was the biggest influence on you growing up when it came to baseball?
Grammes: Definitely my Dad, he’s the one that introduced me to the game. He’s always willing to take his time and work with me to do anything that will help me get better. I would say he has been my role model throughout my life.
Banners on the Parkway: That’s awesome, what do you like to do when you are not playing baseball?
Grammes: I’m big into golf and music. I like watching TV, movies and hanging out with friends. I love just being around the guys.
Banners on the Parkway: My wife gets credit for this last question and then I’ll let you go. Not to put you on the spot, but tell us something about yourself that people may not know about you. My wife said, “who knows, maybe he plays the violin.”
Grammes: I will go with that one actually, pretty much zero people know. I played the violin from 2nd grade to 6th grade.
Banners on the Parkway: You’re kidding, right?
Grammes: I’m dead serious, 100%. I don’t think there is a person on campus that knows it. I don’t think I would have remembered if you hadn't brought that up.
Banners on the Parkway: Excellent, that is all that I have. Thank you so much Conor. Best of luck this season. We look forward to seeing you in Chapel Hill later this month.