Orange stripes line the sides of Griffin Conine’s black Nike shorts. On the bottom right side is a Marlins logo. Opposite that, stitched into the fabric, is a white logo that reads “CO9.” Miami customized the shorts for his father, Jeff, after he became the team’s ambassador. Rather than keeping them, Florida’s first two-time all-star gave them to his son to wear every day before games.
“A lot of guys think I’m big-time for wearing those,” Conine said. “I just found them in my house and swiped them. I absorbed them into my wardrobe.”
Jeff, whose nickname is Mr. Marlin, spent nearly two decades in the majors before working in Miami’s front office. Much of the young slugger’s life has been centered on his father’s job.
Now, after watching his father’s 17-year all-star career, Conine is now en route to becoming a pro himself. At Duke this spring Conine earned mid-season All-America and Second-Team All-ACC honors. Now, a right fielder for the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod Baseball League, Conine is the 2017 CCBL Most Outstanding Prospect, finishing the season tied for the league lead in home runs (9).
By the time Conine was born, his father had already been in the pros for seven years. But baseball never hooked Conine.
When he was six, the Marlins trailed 3-2 in the NLCS to the Cubs. While Jeff played in game six in Chicago, his wife, Cindy, hosted a watch party in Weston, FL., for family and friends, many of whom were the families of Marlins players.
At 11 p.m., with the Marlins down 3-0 in the top of the 8th, Cindy sent her son to bed.
“I said, ‘I promise if anything happens, I’ll come wake you up,’” Cindy said, “because I totally didn’t think that was going to happen. If he was super into baseball I would’ve let him stay up.”
Minutes later yelling woke him up. The Marlins scored eight runs in the eighth, eventually winning the game en route to their second World Series title.
When Conine was 10, Jeff played for the Reds, sharing the outfield with Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. Conine, whose hair is shortly cropped now, once sported curly locks down to his shoulders. Several members of the Reds offered Conine $500 to cut his hair, opening a pool that Griffey rose to $1,000 with his offer.
But Conine refused. He loved his hair, Cindy said, enough to reject one of baseball’s favorites. Conine simply never cared about these players. To Conine, Griffey wasn’t a legendary baseball player, he was just another guy telling him to cut his hair.
“I didn’t even consider it,” Conine said. “No chance that was happening.”
Every year, during the overlap between school and the season, Conine barely saw his father. For home games, Conine left for school early in the morning, and when he got home, Jeff would be walking out the door, headed to the park.
“It was just kind of weird having that emptiness for a while,” Conine said. “I definitely did, at some points, wish that he’d retire earlier.”
Jeff played for six teams, but never spent over five years in one location.
“Now that I’m retired, with kids,” said former Orioles teammate Brian Roberts, “I can’t imagine how hard it was for Jeff and Griffin to leave each other so often.”
In 1999, Conine was traded from the Royals to the Orioles during spring training. Jeff came home, his car was already loaded on the trucks headed to Kansas City. And, yet, he immediately headed to Baltimore.
“He’s gone, and I had to pack up our whole house,” Cindy said. I had the kids, he can’t help because he has to leave pretty much immediately. People think everything is glamorous and it’s not.”
For someone as young as Conine, who didn’t love the game, he didn’t understand the magnitude of his dad playing pro baseball. He was just 10 when Jeff retired in 2007, and still had yet to develop that affection.
After his retirement, Jeff began coaching his son’s baseball teams, something which Conine had never experienced before.
“You get your dad back, Conine said. “Just having him around full-time made a huge difference.”
Baseball is worshipped in South Florida. Some kids play 100 games a year by age seven, Jeff said, and many grow up hating the sport because they burn out. Jeff created a different environment.
Jeff’s coaching style was different from that of many former pros. He never forced Conine to rehearse his mechanics. Instead, he taught his son more about the life of a baseball player and the mental game. Many other big leaguers struggle with this, said Tony Graffanino, a 13-year vet whose son A.J. (Washington) plays for Brewster. They want to coach like they are professionals, rather than their own children.
“It was hard to not want (A.J.) to be perfect,” Graffanino said. “I had to change. I had to remember he’s a kid. I need to let him enjoy the game and have fun and not be perfect. No professionals are perfect.”
Jeff and Cindy never forced baseball on either of their sons, and as he aged from 10-15, baseball continued to be just a hobby. By 13, Conine developed into an avid skateboarder, pushing baseball even further to the side.
“I didn’t want to do anything else,” Conine said.
Rather than steer Conine towards baseball, Jeff saw his passion for kick-flips and built him an eight-by-four foot box that he could do tricks off of. Skateboarding became his life as a young teen, and baseball became a burden.
One night Conine had to go to practice, but was “pissed” that he had to. So Jeff sat his son down to talk about baseball.
“‘If you don’t want to do this,” Conine remembers his father saying, “we don’t have to. You could leave it behind,’ Conine said. “‘I’d be completely content if you didn’t want to play another game, if you didn’t want to and that would make you happy.’”
“I think I told him to shut up.” Conine said.
Soon after that talk, Conine’s outlook changed. Skateboarding went out the window, and he centered his focus on baseball. At 15, Conine was a tall, but lanky second baseman, weighing all of 150 pounds.
With instruction from Jeff, Conine began weight training during his sophomore season to get stronger. Bench press, squats, deadlifts; the “big three” mass gainers.
Griffin began to bulk up his frame, and as he strengthened, so did his game. Conine developed from an average baseball player, to one of the better kids in the league. He and Jeff talked about collegiate baseball. At the time, Jeff thought his son could play Division III, possibly small Division I if they really worked for it.
By the spring of his junior year at Pine Crest High School, Florida, Conine stood at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds. As he continued to develop, he produced a season no one saw coming.
With a Division I build, Conine raked in his junior campaign, hitting .468 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs. Instead of the 150 pound-second baseman, colleges saw raw power from what looked like a grown man.
“(My dad) said after my junior year that college baseball wasn’t a question,” Conine said. “It was just where I was going to go.”
Jeff never anticipated the success he would have. At UCLA in the mid-1980s, Jeff was a “mediocre” relief pitcher, not the All-Star outfielder he once became. He did, though, finish 4-2 in a championship season in Orleans in 1986.
He never thought he’d pitch professionally, but UCLA pitching coach, turned scout, Guy Hanson put Conine’s name in the 1987 draft as a position player, despite Conine having just one at-bat in college.
When the draft started on Tuesday, June 2, Jeff’s phone remained silent. And it did the same on Wednesday. Thursday evening, Jeff received a call from Hanson informing him that the Royals drafted him in the 57th round.
“I answered the phone,” Jeff said. “And he said, ‘Jeff, we got you,’ and I said, ‘you did?’ I thought the draft was over. I didn’t know it lasted that long.
Twenty-eight years and 27 rounds later, Conine faced a similar draft-day experience.
Conine slept in his home in Weston when the call came. His mother Cindy, answered the phone and raced upstairs to wake him. Marlins’ scouting director Laz Llanes called to tell Conine that he had just been selected in the 31st round of the 2015 MLB Draft.
“I was like, ‘why are you waking me up,’” Conine said. “I thought maybe it was a relative. I figured (the draft) was over by the time I got called.”
Before his senior season, Conine committed to Duke over Wake Forest and Rice. But three months before beginning his freshman year in Durham, the Marlins selected Conine with the 926th pick in the 2015 draft.
“I don’t think anyone really saw the draft coming,” Conine said. “I don’t think I would’ve been taken if my last name wasn’t what it is.”
Nonetheless, Conine intended to go to school rather than play professionally out of high school.
At school, after dominating his last two years of high school, Conine struggled his freshman year. The lefty batted just .205 while playing in just 35 games. During difficulties, Conine turned to Jeff for help. Jeff didn’t point out any mechanics issues, or change his physical game, but corrected his mental mistakes.
“Griffin definitely looks to his father as his number one mentor,” said Wayne Stofsky, Conine’s high school coach. “Mentally, he gets it.”
After struggling his freshman year of college, Conine has been on a tear. He led the Northwoods league in home runs last summer, before his monster sophomore season at Duke and summer in Cotuit.
The two performed in front of a national audience at the end of June with Conine’s participation in the College Home Run Derby and Jeff throwing to him.
“It was nerve-wracking for me,” Jeff said. “I had to throw BP to him and I hadn’t been very good a couple weeks earlier at home.”
Conine finished in last place, but the pair enjoyed the spectacle and the experience. His production on the Cape succeeded that of the derby, and Conine showcased it in his dad’s first visit.
On Friday, July 21, Conine’s family came to the Cape to see him play against Chatham. In the top of the sixth inning, on a 1-1 count at Veteran’s Field, Conine blasted a fastball over the right field fence for a two-run home run.
As he touched home plate and bumped helmets with Cotuit catcher Ivan Gonzalez, he glanced over at his dad sitting in the second row of Veteran’s field down the first base line.
As the two locked eyes, Cindy watched her husband and son with a smile on her face.
“I guarantee,” Cindy said, “Griffin wouldn’t be doing what he’s doing if it wasn’t for Jeff.”