PHOTO: Danny Grillo serves as catcher for FDTC during a pre-season scrimmage at Virginia Tech.
FLORENCE, S.C. (April 29, 2019) – Danny Grillo, a 19-year-old freshman catcher for the Florence-Darlington Technical College Stingers will serve as a catcher for Israel’s 2020 Summer Olympics qualifying team.
Grillo was born in Babylon, New York and moved to Milton, Georgia when he was just six-years-old. Baseball has always been a passion of his as he followed in the footsteps of his older brother who also played in college.
“I kind of just fell in love with baseball, because my entire family has just been involved my entire life,” Grillo said. “My brother played college baseball, and I always went to watch him play and it just grew on me.”
When Grillo was in high school, he attended a baseball camp at the College of Charleston, and that’s when he was discovered by former Tech Stinger staff member, Lukas Ray. Later on, Grillo received a phone call from head baseball coach, Preston McDonald, asking him to visit the two-year institution in Florence, South Carolina.
“I went to a College of Charleston camp, and I had always been interested in the College of Charleston,” Grillo said. “They (FDTC coaching staff) were there, and coach (Lukas) Ray, who is not here anymore, he was the one what recruited me and then Preston McDonald called me and told me that he wanted me to come for a visit.”
Grillo chose the JUCO route, because he wanted to become faster, stronger and overall a better player of baseball. Florence-Darlington Technical College offered an atmosphere where Grillo could achieve all of his goals before possibly moving on to a higher level of competition.
“I chose the JUCO route, because I wanted to further my experience in baseball,” Grillo said. “Get bigger and get smarter for baseball, because in high school, I wasn’t all that. I wasn’t one of those big names, but I was good, but I wasn’t as good as I knew I could be.”
Grillo made his connection with the Israel Senior National Team, when he went to watch the movie, Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel. At the theater, he met a team member who helped him get in touch with the team’s president Peter Kurz, and its coach Eric Holtz. Following a series of emails and a review of video, Grillo solidified a spot on the team. The only step in the process left to do was become a citizen of Israel.
“I talked to one of the guys on the team, and he got me the email of the president of Team Israel and the manager and the coach, and I emailed them and it was just emailing back and forth and eventually, they said that I was on the team after they saw a couple of videos.”
Grillo was born a citizen of the United States, but in order to become a member of the team, he also had to become a citizen of Israel. Grillo’s mother is an Israeli, and she served in the country’s Army for two years, so that gave Grillo a huge jumpstart on the citizenship process; however, he still needed an exemption to army service, because he was turning 18-years-old and was an Israeli living overseas.
“My mom is a citizen of Israel,” Grillo said. “She served in the Army there for two years, and then that’s how I qualified, but I still had to get my citizenship. I had to get an excuse from the (Israel) Army. Since I was just about to turn 18 when I got my citizenship, they would’ve drafted me if I didn’t get that, so I got the approval not to have to go into the Army. Once I got my citizenship, I had to get my passport and then I’ve got all of that, so that’s what makes me qualified now.”
Now, Grillo has dual citizenship in both, the United States and Israel. Grillo is one of three catchers for Israel’s baseball team. If Grillo isn’t able to obtain a starting spot, he will continue to live in the United States and serve as a reserve player in the event of one of the other two catchers were to get injured or benched.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Grillo said. “It’s a humbling experience too. Just being involved with all of that and playing with all of those guys. I’m the youngest on the team probably by two or three years, so just having my name even be in consideration for the roster is just an incredible honor.”
Grillo has never actually visited Israel before, but he’s hoping to make his first trip to the country this summer.