Gritty Gridley: Junior shortstop defies odds at MSU

Ryan Gridley hits for MSU
Staff Writer

Ryan Gridley was just a small kid who loved to play baseball as he grew up in Milton, Georgia. Mississippi State’s current shortstop and three-hole hitter is now one of the unquestioned stars and leaders of a Bulldog team that sits tied atop the Southeastern Conference standings. It’s a spot Gridley always knew he could be in. Yet it’s a role not many others around him as a youngster ever saw coming.
“Before I got here, when I was growing up, a lot of people said, ‘Hey, you’re too short. You can’t play shortstop. You’re not good enough. You don’t have a strong enough arm. You’re not fast enough,’” Gridley recalled. “That always made me want to get better than anyone thought I could be.”
It appears Gridley indeed got the last laugh on his detractors.
One glance at Gridley though, and you might can see why he’s not your prototypical star baseball player. He stands just 5-foot-8. He’s listed at only 177 pounds. Those figures might sound like a good distance runner or some other type of athlete, but they are hardly what you’d expect to find in the heart of the lineup in an SEC batting order.
Yet there has always been something special about Gridley. It was something first-year head baseball coach Andy Cannizaro says he picked up on almost immediately after getting the job at MSU late last year.
“There is just tremendous leadership ability,” Cannizaro said of Gridley. “He’s a 4.0 student with baseball instincts off the charts. You start combining that with the ability to play the game and it’s special. He has really good bat speed. His swing is in the zone for a really long time. He is a confident defender. He comes and gets the baseball as well or better than anybody in our league at shortstop. He has instincts to run the bases and good speed and those types of things.”
It’s a skill set that Gridley has refined since he first put on the maroon and white as a freshman back in 2015. While doubters might have expected Gridley to be a flop at MSU, all he did was come in his first season and get voted an All-Southeastern Conference freshman by the league’s coaches. Gridley’s stock only rose from there.
“When I got here, a lot of people thought I’d redshirt, but I wanted to show them I could play as a freshman,” Gridley said. “I did that. The next year, folks were thinking, ‘Are you going to improve? Are you going to have a better year than your freshman year?’ They’d think, ‘I don’t know. He’s got kind of slow hands and a weak bat.’ So I wanted to increase and get better, then, going into this year, I wanted to increase it all again. I try to take a lot of pride in what I do and try to better myself every single year.”
Gridley’s growth is apparent. He’s easily having his best year yet in maroon and white. He’s second on the team in batting average (.325) and RBI (33). He’s third in home runs (five), and runs scored (36).
Behind the success is an inner confidence and chip on the shoulder that has been with Gridley ever since he was being told all this wasn’t possible.
“He’s an extremely confident player and he believes he’s the best shortstop in America,” Cannizaro said. “He’ll tell you that too, which I love. I love the fact he has that kind of confidence about his own ability because it allows him to go out there and play well each and every day and help us win ballgames.”
Gridley said his faith keeps his confidence from moving into the territory of arrogance. For as much as Gridley has improved on the field while at MSU, he admits he has grown just as much off of it.
Gridley says his Christian faith was weak when he first got to college. However, relationships forged with Jimmy Gilford of MSU’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, as well as team chaplain Matt Jolley, strengthened Gridley’s relationship with the Lord and his Christian beliefs.
“Both of those guys took me under their wing and showed me exactly what it’s like to be a true Christian,” Gridley said. “It took me a little while to understand that I had to read some things on my own and I had to gain some understanding, but I think over time when they explained things to me like, ‘This is the book of John. This is who this guy was.’ They could explain to me what these things were, then I could pick up on it myself.”
It was all life-changing, and game-changing, for Gridley.
“It really changed the way I thought about everything,” Gridley said. “Rather than playing the game for myself or getting awards so everyone could see, now it’s like, ‘I hope I play well so I have the opportunity to speak to other people that I otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to speak to.’”
So now, when Gridley takes the field, he’s still the same guy who believes in himself. No one can convince him that he can’t do something and the confidence is very much still intact. It’s just that now, Gridley’s different perspective on life fuels him to keep going far beyond what many ever thought possible.
Even when faced with difficult days at the ballpark, Gridley’s faith allows him to bounce right back.
“The second you remember what you’re playing for and what you really believe in, it completely brings you down to the level you should be at,” Gridley said. “People might say, ‘You should be the arrogant guy. You should be the guy to have all this confidence in yourself.’ That’s all great in baseball, but at a certain point, you have to remember there is someone higher than you. That’s what I’m thinking about, for the most part, all the time on the field.”
It has all come together to make Gridley an indispensable part of MSU’s lineup.
Now as Gridley returns home this weekend to lead his Bulldogs against Georgia's squad, he has come a long way since being the overlooked boy. If the past is any indication, he’s probably not anywhere close to his finish line yet either.
“You start combining tools to play the game, plus positive makeup and a love to play baseball and that’s exactly what Ryan Gridley is,” Cannizaro said.