In the hours before starts, most major league pitchers are silent and stone-faced. They forgo interviews and avoid teammates.
A.J. Griffin is not most major league pitchers. Before four of his first nine starts this year (4-3, 3.59 ERA), the Oakland Athletics' No. 3 starter strummed and serenaded teammates minutes before taking the mound.
"You don't really see that with starting pitchers very often, but I'm kind of a weird, quirky guy," the 25-year-old right-hander says. "I just like to have fun and enjoy life and not take anything too seriously. We’re playing a game, so we might as well have a good time and enjoy it."
His guitar "routine is not a set routine" and therefore supersedes superstition. He can do one well without the other, he says. “I just play it by ear.” Proof: He won 11 of his first 15 MLB decisions while compiling a 3.28 ERA in 24 outings.
How did this all get started?
In the minors, I was without my guitar a lot because I moved from team to team so much. So before games, I would just put on some crazy dance music and jump around and get pumped up and try to have some fun, try to make a couple guys laugh before we go out and play a game. It has kind of evolved since then.
How did you adapt your routine to the bigs?
I toned it down up here, especially since I was the new guy and you have to respect the older guys and their routines. I don't want to get in the way by dancing around being an idiot when another guy has a quiet routine. I play just to have a good time, and it's a good way to get my mind right before the game.
What kind of guitar do you play?
I actually have six. I have a couple acoustic Ibanez guitars, a mini Martin for traveling and a Taylor acoustic. I also have a couple electrics, but I mostly play acoustics so I don’t need to be carrying an amplifier all over the place.
What type of music do you play?
I have always liked playing Led Zeppelin. And I play Spanish stuff from Maná, a band from Guadalajara. I have a pretty good grasp on Spanish from growing up in El Cajon, Calif. But I also just like playing around, making stuff up on the fly.
How do your Latin teammates grade your singing in their native tongue?
I usually do more talking to them in Spanish than singing in it, but they enjoy it. I probably know Yoenis Cespedes and Bartolo Colon [who conduct media interviews with interpreters] better than some of my other teammates just because I don't have the language barrier.
Do teammates ever join in?
We always have music in the clubhouse. John Jason plays pretty well. So does Evan Scribner. It's just a laid-back thing.
When do you find the time to fine-tune your "performances"?
When everybody is doing batting practice, for me there’s nothing better to do than just hang out and not think about anything before I pitch. I like to chill out, relax and mess around with the guitar.
Is Oakland's clubhouse the perfect atmosphere for this?
We just like to have a good time. We play baseball; we don't work baseball. We're all pulling the same side of the rope to accomplish the same task, but we can't take it too seriously. We play well as a team when we're all loose and enjoying ourselves.
How do you transition into game mode once you get on the mound?
I don't really flip a switch. I just know what I'm supposed to do, and I have a game plan. But even between innings, when there's music playing on the stadium speakers, I'll be singing along.