Dan Griesbaum takes great pride in being a mentor to his many players over the years. He could win his 700th game as coach this week. (Steve Perez / Detroit News)
Grosse Pointe — There’s just something about baseball that has a hold of Dan Griesbaum.
Sure, winning has a lot to do with that. And as Grosse Pointe South High’s coach, Griesbaum’s had his share of winning, compiling a 698-358-1 record since he became coach in 1984. With two victories this week, he will become the 13th coach in Michigan with 700 or more victories.
But wins aside, there’s something more that has been at the heart of the game for Griesbaum.
In subtle ways, coaching baseball has helped Griesbaum shape the lives of his players in more ways that he ever could have imagined.
“I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been to the (state) final four five times,” said Griesbaum, 61. “But coaching is more than winning championships, winning games. It’s about teaching life skills. It’s about the relationships. It’s about preparing them for the rest of their lives.”
And luckily, that won’t change anytime soon despite that Griesbaum and his wife, Paulette, announced their retirement from teaching — Dan after 35 years, Paulette after 22 — at the end of the school year.
“I tell people you can’t do it alone,” said Dan Griesbaum, who will remain as South’s baseball coach. “You need support from the community, parental, administrative and the feeder programs. ... And I couldn’t have done this without Paulette and her support.
“I’ll continue to do this as long as I can demonstrate the skills, swinging the bat and fielding ground balls. I don’t want to just hang on.”
When he was 16 years old, Griesbaum played third base for Eastside Sporting Goods, a summer league team that won the National Amateur Baseball Federation championship in 1970.
It was then that Griesbaum, a three-sport athlete at St. Clair Shores South Lake, knew baseball was his sport.
In 1971, Griesbaum was one of the top players in the state despite playing for an average South Lake team.
“There wasn’t an all-state team, per se, back then,” Griesbaum said. “But I made first team all-area with guys like Frank Tanana (Detroit Catholic Central) and Jim Saad (Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher).
“I was told I was one of the best and I thought I’d get a shot (at the majors out of high school).”
But the call never came.
So, Griesbaum grabbed the next available brass ring, signing with Central Michigan.
“I was crushed,” Griesbaum said of not getting a shot at pro ball out of high school. “It shook my confidence.”
So much so that Griesbaum struggled his freshman year at Central Michigan.
It wasn’t until his sophomore season, in a game against Ohio, that Griesbaum’s confidence returned. He had three hits the day, including a home run. He started the next season at first base, and as a senior, hit .339. But still, no call came from the majors.
Finding his calling
That’s when Griesbaum’s career took a left turn.
Instead of continuing to dream about pro baseball, he became a graduate assistant at Central Michigan, coaching the freshman team as he went back to school seeking a master’s degree in health and physical education.
He had found his calling.
Until, that is, budget cuts at Central Michigan forced the elimination of his position after his second year.
So, Griesbaum was again looking for work — and married — in 1977.
In the summer of 1979, Griesbaum was hired as a physical education teacher with the Grosse Pointe school system. He worked at both high schools, North and South, and became an assistant baseball coach under Frank Sumbera at North.
Then, in 1983, Griesbaum’s double duty was cut in half — he was hired as South’s baseball coach and a teacher at the school.
“My faith is important to me,” Griesbaum said. “At one time, I thought I’d play pro baseball. And I was disappointed the Central job didn’t turn out. I thought I’d be a college coach the rest of my life.
“But the good Lord put me here. The Lord didn’t want me to go out recruiting every day. He wanted me here.”
And “here” is where he’s found success — Griesbaum’s teams have won 20 district titles the last 30 years.
South also has reached the state semifinals five times, and has one state (Division 1) title, in 2001.
Griesbaum also has coached several standout players, among them: Chris Getz (White Sox, Royals, Blue Jays), who retired last week; Adam Abraham (Indians organization); Charlie Braun and Carmen Benedetti (Michigan); and Sean Bruce and Cam Gibson (Michigan State).
It’s been a difficult time for the South community in recent days after a student committed suicide.
And it is during times like these that Griesbaum sets aside the sport and remembers his calling.
“We tell them life is never that bad,” Griesbaum said. “We’re here for you. Come talk to us. Coaching is great but ... I got a letter from a girl in my class that said that what we talked about saved a friend from committing suicide.”
And that is what Griesbaum has tried to pass on to everyone — players, students ... and his children.
His son, Dan Jr., works in the Tigers organization, and daughter Kari teaches fourth and fifth grade in the Grosse Pointe school district.
“People say you can’t take (your job) home with you,” Griesbaum said. “That’s not true. If you’re passionate about it, you take it home.”