Hagerty High grad and Oviedo Babe Ruth alum Riley Greene was the #5 pick in this summer’s Major League Baseball Draft
As a projected first-round pick in the June 2019 Major League Baseball Draft, former Hagerty High School star Riley Greene had the option to travel to New Jersey to be on-hand for the live event, which was nationally-televised by MLB Network. But Riley declined; he had a better plan.
Riley would watch the Draft on a TV in the clubhouse of an apartment complex here in Oviedo-Winter Springs, sharing the glorious moment with 200 family members, friends, and coaches. And they didn’t have to wait long to celebrate. The Detroit Tigers – in the first round with the fifth-overall pick – selected Riley, a left-handed outfielder, who was widely considered the best hitter in the draft.
“All the people at the party were big influences in my life, and I wanted to spend the night with them,” says Riley, who turns 19 years old on September 28. “It felt like we were staring at the TV for hours, but it might’ve been 10 minutes. It seemed like forever.”
Before the big moment, Riley was in a separate, smaller room with parents Alan and Lisa, his sister Miranda, and a few of his coaches, waiting to get the call from his agent, Tripper Johnson.
“Then my agent called and said, ‘Hey, dude. You’re going to the Tigers,’” Riley says. “It was the best feeling ever.”
A few days later, Riley was at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit with his family for a whirlwind introduction to the Tigers. He took a tour of the ballpark, met with the Tigers’ top brass and players, did interviews and photo ops, and then impressed everyone with his first batting practice as a pro.
With Detroit’s All-Star first baseman Miguel Cabrera watching from the dugout and several other players standing behind the batting cage, Riley sent seven home runs over the big-league fence. At one point, he hit four homers in a row, including one towering shot into the second deck, over Kaline’s Corner in right field. Al Kaline, 84, the Hall of Famer known as Mr. Tiger, was also on hand that day to shake hands with Riley, who could be Detroit’s next big star.
In fact, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire was so impressed with Riley that he joked to a TV reporter that when Riley walked into his office, “I tried to get him to stay. But he left, anyway.”
“He’s only 18, but he did such a fantastic job in the press conferences,” says Riley’s dad, Alan. “There were cameras flashing; there was so much press coverage, with him being the Tigers’ first pick. He was already a celebrity!”
If Riley lives up to his hype, his call-up to the Major Leagues may come sooner than later. In his very first minor-league baseball game, in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League (GCL), Riley hit two home runs for the GCL Tigers West in Lakeland. He went 4-for-5 in that game, with a double and five runs batted in.
After just nine games in the GCL, Riley was promoted to the Connecticut Tigers in the New York-Penn League, where he quickly became one of the team’s leading hitters. Only 24 games later, he was promoted again, this time to the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps.
“They moved him up pretty fast, which is exciting,” says Alan, a baseball and softball instructor who has coached Riley since he began playing T-ball in Oviedo Babe Ruth. “He just loves it. He loves the team he’s on, the organization, the coaches. Everything so far has been fantastic for Riley.”
You could say that Riley is living his dream, but he actually confesses that he never really thought much about a Major League Baseball career.
“To be honest, I didn’t really think about it,” Riley says. “I always loved baseball, but I didn’t think about playing professionally. Now I just want to keep playing baseball, because I love it so much.”
Riley says he even loves the daily grind of minor-league ball. In Connecticut, the Tigers play in the Class A Short Season league against the likes of the Tri-City ValleyCats, the Lowell Spinners, and the Vermont Lake Monsters. Most days, Riley arrives at the ballpark in the mid-afternoon, hangs out with his teammates, and plays a game at 7:00 p.m. He says he doesn’t even mind the overnight bus rides back from away games.
It’s a heck of a way to make a living for a young man who earned a signing bonus of more than $6 million on draft day.
“To be honest, it’s been a lot of fun,” Riley says. “In Lakeland, for rookie ball, it was hot, it was a grind, but I loved it. Sometimes, after a three-hour game, we have a five- or six-hour bus ride, and we get back at 5:00 a.m. But it’s not too bad. You just get as much sleep as you can. You adjust.”
Riley’s attitude is both understandable and predictable. As a youngster growing up in Oviedo, his dad recalls a running joke amongst his Live Oak Reserve neighbors about calling Child Protective Services to report the baseball-crazy family. They’d see Alan and Riley playing catch in the middle of the street, way past sundown on a school night, when Riley was in kindergarten and first grade.
Alan even bought some construction lights at a local home-improvement store and set them up in the street for their evening games of catch. Sometimes, Lisa would feed them dinner outside because Alan came home late from work and wanted to spend time with his son, doing what Riley loved most.
“We were always going outside to play football, basketball, or baseball,” Alan says. “Riley was so energetic. He just loved sports; he loved baseball. And he always wanted to work on his skills and do well for his team. He never played for himself. He always played for his team.”
That attitude has served Riley well. He made Hagerty’s varsity baseball team as a freshman and would do whatever it took to help his team win. During Riley’s four years of high-school baseball, the Huskies made two trips to the state championship game, and this past season, Riley was named Florida’s Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year. As a senior, he batted .422 with eight home runs, 27 RBIs, and 38 runs scored for Hagerty, which went 23-5 on the season.
Riley hopes his success continues with the Tigers.
“I tell people I’m just taking it day by day, playing as hard as I can,” Riley says. “I hope one day I’ll make it to the big leagues, but if I don’t, at least I got to play the game I loved for a few years. I feel very fortunate to be a Tiger, and I hope to be with the Tigers for the rest of my life.”
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