All-Star Grandal: Dayton native Yeager a big influence

CINCINNATI — Cuban-born Yasmani Grandal was chatting in Spanish into a microphone of a Spanish-language reporter when the phrase, “Steve Yeager,” was interjected into the conversation by Grandal. It was the only two words I understood.

Steve Yeager is from Dayton, attended Meadowdale High School, and had a long and distinguished career as a catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers during the 1970s when the Dodgers menaced The Big Red Machine nearly every season, usually suffering The Big Blue Blues.

Yeager, a cocksure guy with a Type A personality, was fond of telling anybody who would listen, “I’m as good as Johnny Bench.” Few people listened, but Yeager was exceptional on defense but not much on offense

Grandal is a catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, an All-Star this year. He was a surprise No. 1 draft pick by the Reds in 2010, just three years after the Reds made catcher Devin Mesoraco their No. 1 draft pick.

Grandal was traded by the Reds along with Edinson Volquez, Yonder Alonso and Brad Boxberger for pitcher Mat Latos.

When the Spanish-language reporter finished with Grandal he was asked, “What did you say about Steve Yeager?”

One would have thought Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa or Che Guevara was mentioned. Grandal straightended in his chair, held his head up and said, “Steve Yeager? Are you kidding me? Steve Yeager means everything to me.”

Yeager is a coach with the Dodgers now and Grandal was part of last winter’s trade that sent Grandal to LA and outfielder Matt Kemp to San Diego.

Asked what Steve Yeager has done for him, Grandal said, “Huh? Steve Yeager has done everything for me. I mean, ever since I got to the Dodgers he has talked to me and been positive. I guess he sees potential in me and he sees fire in me. He likes the way I play.”

Nobody had more fire in his belly than Yeageer, whose boiler was an inferno. He nearly died after an accident during a game when the pointed end of a shattered bat stuck in his throat. Yeager constructed a piece of protective steel that dangled from his mask to protect his throat and played on.

Not long after his trade to LA last winter, Grandal received a phone call from the gravelly-voiced and blunt Yeager.

“It was a week after the trade and he called and said, ‘Hey, young fella, how you doing? I heard you like to work so get ready to work.’ So as soon as we got to spring training we hit it off. He worked every day whether it was a physical aspect, a mental aspect or a catching aspect. We went over calling games. I have a great relationship with ‘Boomer,’ that’s what we call him.”

That’s what they called him when he caught for the Dodgers because his voice boomed from behind home plate to the pitcher’s mound, to second base, to center field on into the distant San Gabriel Mountains.

There was a time when the Reds were not certain who their next catcher would be, Mesoraco or Grandal. That was decided with they traded Grandal to San Diego and kept Mesoraco.

At the time, it was thought either Mesoraco or Grandal would be All-Star catchers and Grandal agrees.

“Even though a team has two All-Star catchers in his system, you don’t really think about being traded,” he said. “You think of yourself and how you want to compete. But when you have two guys like us in the organization, at some point one is going to become a trade chip. It just depends on who teams want and I guarantee you there were other teams who wanted Mesoraco. San Diego just happened to want me.

“I guess my stock was down a little bit with the Reds because my first year in the minors I wasn’t hitting so maybe they thought I wasn’t ever going to hit.”

So now the 26-year-old switch-hitter is on his first All-Star team and he was asked what he can take away from it.

“I’m looking forward to talking to a couple of guys, picking their brains and see what they think when they’re playing,” said Grandal. As he spoke he looked across the room, his gaze falling on St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina, appearing in his seventh All-Star game.

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