Detroit Tigers prospect Riley Greene has been 'ridiculous' since the beginning

Jeff Seidel
Detroit Free Press

BRADENTON, Fla. — Fifteen years ago, Freddie Engel volunteered to help coach a T-ball team, although anybody who has coached that level knows it’s more like herding cats than coaching.

The team was made up of a bunch of 4-year-olds. One of them was Riley Greene, who would become the Tigers' first selection of the 2019 MLB draft.

“Riley has been special since he was 4,” Engel said. “On a baseball field, he was ridiculous.”

He coached Greene for more than 12 years, from T-ball through travel ball. “It’s amazing to me, just to be part of this,” he said. 

Outfielder Riley Greene talks to Bryant Packard during Detroit Tigers spring training at TigerTown in Lakeland, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020.

He estimates that he has watched Greene play more than 1,000 games — sometimes more than 100 games in a year. After the draft, Engel started following him through the Tigers' minor-league system: rookie ball in Lakeland (.351 batting average), short-season-A in Connecticut (.295), single-A in West Michigan (.219 in 24 games). 

Engel became close friends with Greene’s father, Alan. They ended up coaching together for years, and had a pact on how to coach their kids. “I always told (Alan) that you can rip into my kid and I’ll rip into your kid,” Engel said.

So on Sunday morning, before Greene played in his first spring training game for the Tigers — before he hit his first home run and scored two runs and made an incredible catch in an 8-4 victory over Pittsburgh — there was no question where Engel wanted to be.

He wanted to take a road trip.

“Let’s go!” Engel said.

Freddie Engel, who coached Tigers prospect Riley Greene as a 4-year-old playing T-ball, and Greene's father, Alan, at Greene's first spring training game in Bradenton, Florida, on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020.

So Engel and Alan and their wives drove two hours across Florida, from Oviedo to Bradenton.

“You would think he is nervous out here, but I think we are more nervous than him,” Engel said before the game. “He just likes playing baseball.”

Greene wasn’t in the starting lineup but went through pregame drills and batting practice at LECOM Park.

“It’s pretty surreal, seeing your son out on the field with some of the major league guys,” Alan said. “He just turned 19. That’s a cool thing. It’s very exciting for a parent. We drove two hours, which is really close. Normally, we are flying to West Michigan or Connecticut. What a beautiful day.” 

Learning the grind

Last year was a blur for Riley Greene — stressful and exciting all at once. He lost about 15 pounds after going through prom, graduation, the draft and getting his first taste of the minor leagues.

Outfielder Riley Greene practices in the batting cage during Detroit Tigers spring training at TigerTown in Lakeland, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020.

“I learned that the minor leagues is a grind,” he said. “You have to learn to take it day by day and be able to be confident every day. Just have fun with it, pretty much. My legs were hurting there at the end but I just had to keep on going.”

By the end of the year, he had lost some of his power because of the weight loss. Instead of hitting home runs, he was hitting fly balls to the warning track.

“He wouldn’t admit if he’s tired,” Alan Greene said. “He would never admit that.”

When he got home after the season, he weighed in the 180-pound range after starting out at about 195.

He spent the offseason salt-water fishing in his new boat and working out.

“Did a lot of fishing,” Riley Greene said.

He gained his weight back and his strength. Now, he’s more than 200 pounds.

“He put it back with mom’s cooking and he went to the gym really quick,” Alan Greene said.

Riley is staying in the dorms at Tiger Town with Parker Meadows, even though he has millions in the bank from his signing bonus. “I’m staying in the dorms for now, trying to save some money,” he Greene said. “It’s not that bad. I have my own room.”

Outfielder Parker Meadows high fives Riley Greene during Detroit Tigers spring training at TigerTown in Lakeland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020.

“He’s a pretty frugal kid,” Alan Greene said. “They love hanging out. That’s friendships that you’ll have for the rest of your life.”

'It was great'

Greene entered the game in the bottom of the fourth inning and went to right field. In his first at-bat, he walked and scored on Jorge Bonifacio's double.

“He threw me one strike,” Greene said. “I took a hack. I was like, ‘I need to slow down.’ ”

In his second at-bat, he walked again, showing all kinds of patience and composure.

Then came the ninth inning, and he put on a show.

Greene came up with two outs. “I got to two strikes and shortened up,” he said. 

He swung nice and easy, and the ball shot off his bat over the right-field fence.

“He threw me slider low,” Riley said, matter-of-factly, “and I got the head on it.”

He wasn’t done. In the bottom of the ninth, Greene showed off his defense. He tracked down a long fly ball, sprinting toward the right-field wall. Center fielder Derek Hill was yelling that he had room. Greene trusted him and snagged it at the wall.

Detroit Tigers' Riley Greene, Parker Meadows take batting practice before spring game

“I heard him,” Greene said. “He was talking — it was great.”

As Green was being interviewed, Hill came over and asked him to sign a baseball.

From one first rounder to another.

Heady times.

“It was awesome,” Greene said. “It was a lot of fun. Hopefully, I get to do it again.”

It was just a spring training game, but these are all the first moments that lead to something far greater. They are milestones really. Tiny steps that start to accumulate.

And just like old times, Freddie Engel and Alan Green were sitting together watching something that seemed so familiar — once again Riley did something ridiculous.

Contact Jeff Seidel: Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to