Watching the Detroit Tigers with Riley Greene’s dad unearths great stories on top prospect

Detroit Free Press

Jeff Seidel | Detroit Free Press

TAMPA, Fla. — Alan Greene glanced at the scoreboard in George M. Steinbrenner Field, scanned the batting order and realized his son, Riley, was about to come up to bat for the Detroit Tigers.

Alan was watching the game on Monday afternoon with a group of friends — and one sunburned reporter — on a porch, down the third-base line, high over the field.

Alan hustled down the cement steps, bounding from one level to the next. He still looks and moves like an athlete — lean, muscular and fit. He works as a hitting coach and he has instructed more than 800 clients across Florida. He waved at an usher, walked briskly around the stadium, the nervous energy building, a universal emotion shared by all parents — we want our babies to succeed, even when they are young men — and he found a seat behind home plate, in the lower bowl, a perfect spot to watch his son.

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It was Alan’s second trip from the porch to the concourse — Riley had already batted once, drawing a walk against three-time All-Star Gerrit Cole.

Alan pulled out his cell phone, crouched over, bracing his elbows on his knees to get a steady shot. His feet bounced with nervous energy. His black Nikes pumped like pistons — up and down, up and down.

Riley was in the batter’s box after getting his first start of the Grapefruit League season.

“Come on baby,” Alan thought. “Hit the ball. Please! Please!”

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Can you imagine what it’s like to be the parent of one of the Tigers top prospects? Living in Florida and being able to take off a day of work, drive across the state early in the morning, hang out with friends and watch your kid play against the New York Yankees?

“Come on Riley!” somebody screamed from the stands.

Riley started wiggling — a little dance during his pre-hit routine, which he does to relax.

Alan built that swing after about “4 million swings,” and he still offers suggestions and tweaks. On Sunday night, Alan went through videos of Riley’s swing a few hours after the first game of the season and offered a couple of suggestions to his son — get your foot down. He sent Riley a picture of his stance and typed in notes.

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“Don’t miss,” Alan thought. “Don’t miss.”

Niko Goodrum took off from first base — a hit and run — and Greene drilled a 91 mph fastball up the middle for a clean, sharp base hit.

Alan didn’t flinch. He kept filming. No reaction. Not even when Riley stole second base.

“He’s talented,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch would say about Riley after the game, a 5-4 loss to the Yankees. “I thought both of his at bats today were really impressive … I think these new experiences for Riley are building blocks for him to get a little more comfortable in this environment.”

Consider him comfortable.

A father’s pride

After the inning, Alan walked around the stadium and climbed the steps.

“Whew!” he said to a group of friends and shook his head.

They had switched from beer to water. It had already been a long day in the sun.

“We’ll take that line drive, won’t we Greenie,” Freddy Engel said.

Engel started coaching Riley in T-ball and remains a close family friend. They are all baseball people, pulled together by a love of this sport.

“That’s it — I’ll let him come home now,” Alan joked.

A Tigers scout texted Alan: “Great at bat.”

Alan read the note and that got him going on the Tigers.

“The Detroit Tigers, the entire organization, is a class act,” he said. “Hinch is brilliant. This is awesome for Riley, just being around these guys.”

Keep on truckin’

Riley spent the offseason living at home with his parents and lost about 15 pounds to get faster and more agile.

“We are Greenes and we love to eat,” Alan said. “But he would literally stop eating certain things even if they were placed in front of him. He got the yeast roles in front of him and he’s like, ‘Nah, I can’t.’”

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But Riley did splurge and buy an 18-foot 2005 Action Craft fishing boat.

Which means, he had to buy a truck.

“He got an amazing F-250,” Alan said. “A 2018 so it’s not brand new.”

“Wait a second,” I said. “It’s used?”

“Yeah.”

Riley Greene, who just signed for $6 million or $8 million contract — whatever it was,” I said.

“Yeah — $6.2 (million),” he said.

“That kid, he got a used truck?”

“It wasn’t crazy,” Alan said. “I think it had 20,000 miles.”

“That’s the smartest thing I’ve heard,” I said.

“Correct,” Alan said. “He got a truck because he wants to pull his boat. And he wants to get a bigger boat one day.”

When Riley thought about buying a trolling motor for his boat, he realized that he wouldn’t be able to use it until after this season. So he decided to wait and research it, so he wouldn’t waste his money.  Riley has been raised to work hard, stay focused and not squander any money.

“He’s frugal,” Alan says proudly. “He’s a smart kid.”

And his intangibles are off the charts.

An eye for talent

Between breaks in the action, Alan’s friends start to repeat some of Alan’s coaching phrases:

“Stand tall.”

“Finish up.”

“Front foot 45.”

“Wait long, hit strong.”

“Hide your hands.”

I was jotting them down.

“How many are these things does Riley do?” I ask.

“Almost all of them,” Alan said.

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But it was a walk that impressed me the most on Monday. He took a pitch with two strikes.

“Riley created a strike zone that is pretty incredible,” Alan said. “He knows those corners big time.”

“How do you think he got that eye?” I ask.

“A lot of at-bats,” Alan said.

“That’s God given,” Engel argued.

“No, it’s not,” Alan said. Then he thought about it. “OK. It is God given. But it was a lot of work.”

‘He’s not gonna miss’

When Riley was 11, he hit seven home runs in one tournament.

On the way home, Alan asked him: “Riley, what makes you so good?”

“What?”

“Why don’t you miss?” Alan asked.

Riley explained that he was playing for his teammates, and he didn’t want to let them down. He wanted to win for them. So he had to get a hit. He had to drive in runs. For them.

And Alan says he thinks that will happen with the Tigers.

“I really feel as the camaraderie gets better — the coaches and players — he’s going to be even better,” he sad said. “He’s not gonna miss. He’s going to want to do it for them.”

I left the porch and walked toward the press box.

One thought kept coming back. I kept thinking about those rolls.

Riley wanted to lose weight, and even though those rolls were right in front of him — and this family loves to eat — he kept pushing them away. Wanting to lose weight.

Determined and strong.

That says all you need to know about this kid.

No, wait. One more thing. The truck.

Riley Freakin’ Greene, the kid with the $6.2 million contract, bought a used truck.

That says all you need to know about how he was raised.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.

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