What does Severna Park native Matt Griswold have in common with former NFL quarterback Michael Vick, former MLB manager and catcher Johnny Oates, and the NFL’s all-time sacks leader, former Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith? Griswold is a now a member of the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.
The outfielder got the nod in September, along with runners Tasmin Fanning and Brian Walter, former NFL cornerback Brandon Flowers, sports information director Dave Smith, and golfer Drew Weaver.
“This is the professional honor of my life,” Griswold said. “I chose Virginia Tech because of my love for the state, and I was fortunate to have some special memories there.”
Welcome To Hokie Nation
Griswold joined Virginia Tech’s baseball program in 1996, and he blossomed in his sophomore season when he posted a .408 batting average, the highest by a Virginia Tech player in 22 seasons. That average still ranks as the ninth-best in school history. He also led the team with 69 RBIs, a .527 on-base percentage and a .697 slugging percentage. Those totals earned him honors as third-team NCAA Division 1 All-American, and he was nominated for the U.S. Olympic baseball team.
Behind Griswold, the Hokies won the Atlantic 10 Conference championship in 1997 and earned an NCAA regional bid. Individual accolades came as well, with Griswold earning third-team All-America honors after the season.
As a junior in 1998, Griswold hit .361, and shared the team lead with nine homers, while again leading the squad in RBI (65), slugging percentage (.607) and on-base percentage (.483). He set a school record with three grand slams in a season. Following the regular season, he was named the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.
During his senior year in 1999, Griswold hit .345, with 12 homers, 49 RBI, and a single-season school-record 59 walks on his way to earning first-team All-Atlantic 10 recognition again and honorable mention All-America honors. He again led the team in on-base percentage (.489) and also in runs (67), but more importantly, guided the Hokies to a 43-win campaign and another Atlantic 10 Conference championship. In addition, the Hokies earned another NCAA regional bid that year.
Why was Griswold such a successful collegiate player? It started with his youth in Severna Park.
A Sport Of Repetition
The grandson of a shortstop in the Detroit Tigers organization, Griswold played baseball from an early age.
“As a kid, I liked sports and had a natural attraction to the sport of baseball,” Griswold said.
He had natural ability, but he credits American Legion Post 175 Spartans coaches Jim McCandless and Charlie Becker for helping him hone those skills.
“The time Jim and Charlie put in was the greatest thing they gave me,” Griswold said. “We learned from them, the sacrifice and dedication it takes. Jim would throw batting practice for three or four hours to develop our skills. Baseball is a sport of repetition, so that was important to my development.”
Becker still keeps in touch with Griswold, calling his former player one of the best he’s ever coached, a list that includes prolific switch-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Mark Budzinski and a few others.
“Matt was the kind of player you wanted,” Becker said. “He could hit, run, field, and he was good on the bases. In a way, he was like Nick Markakis, who played for the Orioles. When Markakis played, he didn’t jump out as an amazing player, but you look at his stats and realize he could do everything well.
“When we played games at 6:00pm, we would get there at 4:00pm and he never complained,” Becker said of Griswold. “He was always on time. He was a fierce competitor.”
That work ethic helped Griswold at Severna Park High School, where the 5-foot-11, 180-pound, left-handed outfielder grew under coach Jim Pitt. In college, he played for the revered Chuck Hartman.
“He was an interesting character, along the lines of an Earl Weaver or Billy Martin,” Griswold said of Hartman. “He taught me a lot about baseball.”
Griswold departed Virginia Tech as an All-American, a three-time all-conference choice, and a two-time Atlantic 10 all-tournament selection. He shares the school record for walks in a season (59 in 1999) and for putouts by an outfielder in a season (170 in 1999), and he is one of just three players in program history with more than 200 RBI in his career, amassing 203, which ranks third on the program's list.
He hit .354 for his career, with 39 homers and the 203 RBI. Also, he was one of the rare baseball players to walk more than he struck out, walking 161 times in his career compared to just 125 strikeouts.
After his storied career at Virginia Tech, Griswold signed with the Baltimore Orioles and played two years in the minor leagues.
“Although I wasn’t able to make it to the major leagues, it was a dream of mine to play for the Orioles as soon as I knew what they were,” Griswold said. “I wanted to play and retire as an Oriole after a long major league career. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out that way, but I’m grateful I got to live a big part of that dream.”
Coming Full Circle
Griswold is an avid golfer — he almost qualified for U.S. Open in 2018 — and he has stayed involved in baseball by volunteering as a hitting coach for the SPHS varsity Falcons team for the last five years, “Because it’s just fun.”
Reflecting on his career, he feels grateful for the opportunities he was offered, and he is humbled to be mentioned on the same list as so many great Virginia Tech athletes.
“When you’re able to develop relationships and succeed as a team, it doesn’t get any better,” Griswold said. “I was fortunate that baseball allowed me to travel all over the world and meet people of all backgrounds and all ethnicities. The personal accolades were great, but they pale in comparison to the experiences I had with people.”