Grace embracing role as coach in D-backs' system
Former first baseman enjoying new chapter after running into trouble with the law
The Arizona Diamondbacks are holding their ninth annual Fantasy Camp this week at their Spring Training complex at Salt River Fields. Steve Gilbert, who covers the D-backs for MLB.com, is taking part in the camp and is sharing his experiences.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- From 1988 until 2012, Mark Grace knew only one level of baseball.
"I was in some way, shape, or form in the big leagues," said Grace, who played for the Cubs and D-backs from 1988 through 2003.
Following his retirement, Grace immediately joined Arizona's broadcast team and continued to live the life of a big leaguer -- chartered airplanes for road trips, a nice per diem and a good salary.
A pair of DUI arrests within a span of 15 months changed all that.
Grace was initially arrested on May 30, 2011, and upon his second arrest on Aug. 23, 2012, he took a leave of absence from the broadcast booth. Following the 2012 season, the D-backs declined to bring him back as a broadcaster.
Grace reached a plea agreement on the charges and served four months at Arizona's Tent City Jail. The D-backs hired him as a Minor League coach before his sentence, and he was able to become a part of the work release program, spending time during the day at the club's Spring Training complex working with Rookie ball hitters before returning to jail each evening.
"2013 wasn't the greatest of years for me," Grace said during a lunch break Monday during the first day of the D-backs Fantasy Camp. "It was self-inflicted, though. It was no one's fault but mine. I've made a vow to everybody and anybody that that isn't happening again. The good news is I paid my debt to society and fortunately no one was hurt. That's over with."
What was not done was his relationship with the D-backs' organization after managing general partner Ken Kendrick and team president/CEO Derrick Hall agreed to bring him back.
"Thank God for the Diamondbacks," Grace said. "I owe these guys. From Derrick Hall and Ken Kendrick to all the player development people that gave me the opportunity to do this."
Grace spent the summer working with the team's extended spring program and then served as hitting coach for its Arizona Rookie League squad.
It was quite a change from the quality of baseball Grace was used to watching.
"Because of the trouble I got in, now I was at the bottom of the totem pole, Rookie level," Grace said. "The talent level is certainly not what I'd seen for 26 years, and you have to remind yourself that you were once that age, too. You coach them up and you do the best you can with them, and you try to teach them a few things about hitting and you try to teach them a few things about what it takes to move up and play at higher levels and some of the finer points of the game."
In some ways it was a hard summer with long hours spent trying to teach young, raw players the intricacies of baseball.
However, along the way Grace discovered something else: He enjoyed coaching.
While in the broadcast booth, he was detached from the emotion of the game. As a coach, the competitor in him came alive again.
"That's the thing I found out," Grace said. "Coaching is difficult, it's hard, but it's also very rewarding. When you see these guys take what you're working with them on and you see them finally apply it on the field and it works -- when you see that ball get driven into the gap, it's like, 'Yes!' That's what really rekindles the fire and passion that this great game allows you to have."
So Grace signed up for another season as a coach, and this June he will travel to Hillsboro, Ore., where he will serve as hitting coach for the organization's short-season Class A team.
"I am so proud of Mark and the job he has done in player development," Hall said. "His future in coaching and managing is bright indeed, and we are thrilled that he has enthusiastically embraced this new chapter in his life."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.