Player who criticized program alleges head coach gave assistant permission to hit her with pitches
Michigan State Police and Michigan State University officials are investigating allegations a Spartans assistant softball coach twice intentionally hit a player with a pitch, with the head coach's permission, after the player made derogatory comments about the program.
Alyssa McBride, a 22-year-old senior outfielder from Mattawan, said she was hit by two pitches during batting practice near the end of the season. She felt both pitches were aimed at her head, she said. One deeply bruised her left arm and the other struck her wrist.
State Police began the investigation under Detective 1st Lt. Chuck Christensen, and the MSU Police Department joined later. Michigan State officials launched an internal investigation being headed by Gerald J. Gleeson II of Miller Canfield in Troy.
Police have completed their weeks-long investigation and the report is expected to be sent as early as Friday to prosecutors in Ingham County, home of MSU, and Isabella County, home of Central Michigan, where one of the incidents was alleged to have taken place.
There is no timetable for prosecutors to decide if charges will be filed.
"MSU is aware of the allegations made concerning a former student-athlete in the softball program," university spokesman Kent Cassella said in a statement after inquiries from The Detroit News. "We take all allegations involving our students very seriously. In addition to an investigation by MSU Police, who turned their report over to prosecutors, MSU has brought in an external, independent law firm, Miller Canfield, to conduct an internal investigation as well."
Michigan State University officials, including athletic director Mark Hollis, head coach Jacquie Joseph and assistant coach Jessica Bograkos, who threw the pitches, did not return calls seeking comment.
Bograkos' attorney, James T. Heos, of Church Wyble PC in Lansing, mailed a letter dated June 5 to McBride and her stepfather, Mike Gillette, at their Kalamazoo home. It was received Thursday afternoon. The letter stated, in part, "Please be advised that this letter is a demand for retraction of the defamatory assertions you have made involving but not limited to criminal conduct by Mrs. Bograkos."
Several current Spartans players declined comment or declined to have their name used in this story, for fear of retribution.
McBride, meanwhile, completed her eligibility at Michigan State. She led the Spartans with a .371 batting average and .503 on-base percentage this season, and started 50 of 55 games — three of the non-starts immediately followed her comments about the program.
"Realistically, I don't even need to tell you this story to know that she needs to get fired," McBride said of Joseph. "You just look at her record."
At Michigan State, Joseph is 607-627-1, including 166-299 in Big Ten play according to season records posted on MSUSpartans.com. She has had nine winning seasons in 22 years with the Spartans, but none in the last eight years.
Incidents began in April
The incidents under investigation began April 28, when, after a 16-1 loss to Notre Dame in East Lansing, McBride was asked by coaches to conduct the postgame interview with reporters.
McBride said she was asked several non-game related questions, including some about her time at Michigan State. She said she found this odd, and hesitated to answer until the reporter told her three times her comments would be off the record.
"I'm like, 'What? I'm not answering those.' I said a few things like, 'I love my teammates. I love MSU as a school,' " McBride said. "Then it was off the record. He told me it was off the record. He's like, 'I promise I won't say anything,' and he said that like three times."
" 'Honestly, I wish I would've gone to a different school.' He's like, 'Why's that?' 'Because I came here to win and we never won, all four years,'" said McBride, whose MSU teams went 66-140. "I shouldn't have said that, but we just lost by 15 runs. Like, I'm a gamer. I love to win. That's all I care about it."
Somehow, McBride's comments got back to Joseph, who called McBride into her office early April 29. They were joined by two other coaches.
Joseph asked McBride if she made the comments, McBride said.
"She was like, 'Did you say this?' " McBride said. " 'Yeah, I said I wished I would've gone somewhere else because we barely ever won a single game here.' "
Joseph then asked McBride "do you even want to travel today" to the game against Central Michigan in Mount Pleasant, McBride said. McBride, who only had four games remaining in her college career, said yes. Joseph then said she'd see McBride on the bus.
McBride usually sat in the back of the team bus, while Joseph and the coaches sit in front.
That day, Joseph sat next to Bograkos. On staff since 2007, Bograkos, formerly Jessica Beech, was a two-time All-American pitcher for Michigan State. She is now the wife of former Spartans basketball player Tim Bograkos, who works for the MSU Alumni Association.
Jessica Bograkos and Joseph struck up a wide-ranging conversation, according to a team member who sat within earshot. That member, who was interviewed by police, spoke with The News on condition of anonymity. The source heard parts of the conversation clearly, but had trouble hearing other parts.
"I heard Bograkos, the assistant, say, 'I can hit her?' I didn't think anything of it at the time," the source said. "Then Coach Joseph said, 'Yes, you can hit her.' Bograkos responded, 'So, I can hit her?' and Coach Joseph said, 'Yes, you can hit her because I can't. If you hit her, it would be considered an accident.'
"I started thinking about it. She throws batting practice. I know McBride had gotten in trouble that morning. I started thinking about, and I mentioned something to one of the other (team) members: 'Wouldn't it be weird if they hit McBride?' "
During pregame batting practice, McBride stepped into the box, she said, and the first two pitches from Bograkos were unusually high. McBride said she thought it was odd for a pitcher of Bograkos' skills to throw wildly. Several team members and at least one parent said it would be unusual for Bograkos to lose command of her batting practice pitches.
McBride didn't swing at the next pitch, which went down the middle.
Bograkos yelled at her for not swinging, McBride said.
"The next pitch came in way faster, straight at my head; I dodged it, fell back and got out of the way," said McBride, who said she was nicked on the wrist. "She like didn't even blink or anything. She didn't even say sorry. She just got the next ball and was ready to pitch. I was like, 'What the hell?'
"I haven't gotten hit all four years of her pitching to me. If you're a two-time All-American, you can direct where your pitches go."
Joseph stood behind the cage and didn't say anything, McBride said.
Another player, who did not want to be identified, said she saw McBride get hit and she seemed upset. She said it was the first time she had seen a player hit during pregame batting practice.
For the first time in her senior year, McBride didn't play. Central Michigan won, 3-1.
On the trip back to East Lansing, McBride texted a team member — the source who overheard the conversation between Joseph and Bograkos on the ride to Mount Pleasant — to say what happened. The source hadn't seen the pitch, but was upset and suggested bringing the story to Hollis, the source said.
McBride said no.
That night, she called her mother, Amy Gillette, and stepfather, Mike Gillette, a former place kicker at the University of Michigan, to tell them what happened. McBride said they were so furious, they suggested she talk to Christensen, the State Police investigator stationed in Paw Paw. Christensen is an acquaintance of the Gillettes, and had his son coached by Mike Gillette in football.
'I deserve to play'
The next morning, April 30, McBride and Christensen talked, but McBride suggested holding off on moving forward with any official complaint.
"I was like, 'I don't want you to do anything yet,' " McBride said. "It's my last weekend, it's my senior weekend, and I deserve to play. I've earned it."
The final series of the season was May 1-3 against Maryland in East Lansing.
McBride didn't start the first game, but entered as a pinch-hitter and went 0-for-2 in Michigan State's 4-3 victory. She also didn't start the second game, and again entered as a pinch-hitter. She went 2-for-3 in a 6-5 Michigan State loss.
In the series finale, McBride was expected to start — all seniors traditionally start on Senior Day. McBride was one of four seniors.
McBride stepped in against Bograkos for her final round of batting practice, and was hit again, according to McBride, multiple team members and one parent.
"It was a couple pitches into it," McBride said. "I was like even off the plate a little bit because I was scared. I don't want to get hurt. I want my teeth and my face. ... And I don't even stand close to the plate. The ball came in like twice as fast (as the previous pitches), straight at my head. And I couldn't move at that point."
McBride was able to snap her head out of the way, but as a left-handed hitter, she used her arms as a shield, and the ball caught her flush on the underside of her left arm. The ball left a massive bruise and swelling — she shared pictures with The News.
"It still hurts," she said this week.
Despite the injuries, McBride started and played in center field the entire game, a 7-4 Michigan State victory. She went 1-for-2 with a walk, RBI and run scored.
The next morning, May 3, McBride went to Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo to check the injury, where she was diagnosed with a deep contusion. Reports from Bronson obtained by The News showed no fractures.
Shortly thereafter, McBride again began talking to Christensen, and the formal investigation by the Michigan State Police was under way.
Jim Goranson, father of a redshirt sophomore pitcher Dani Goranson, said he shows up more than an hour early for most games. He said he can't recall any player getting hit near the head, or even close calls, though he said he isn't at all the batting practices.
He was at the season finale, standing in the first row behind home plate, and he said he was stunned by what happened.
"When Alyssa went in to hit, the ball went right at her face," said Goranson, of Elk Grove Village, Ill. "I was confused with the reaction. There should've been a trainer. They should've gotten some ice. She should've been checked out. I gasped.
"I cringed, thinking, 'What if that was my daughter? What would've happened if she didn't get her hand up?' My heart sunk. I was really startled."