Q&A: Former professional baseball infielder, East Islip alumnus Tony Graffanino


Former Major League Baseball infielder Tony Graffanino grew up in East Islip and was part of the 1990 graduating class. Graffanino spent 13 seasons in the big leagues as a member of the Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers and Cleveland Indians. Graffanino currently works for Unlimited Potential, a Christian organization of former professional ballplayers who practice their faith and carry out admirable deeds to help others.

Graffanino currently resides in Arizona. His son, A.J., is a minor league baseball player in the Baltimore Orioles organization.

Q: Tell me about life growing up in East Islip.

A: I loved it. I don't think you really realize when you’re a kid how great an area it is. It's just, it's where you grew up, but I lived close to Hecksher State Park. I had a bunch of friends; we used to go to the beach. My family had a boat for a couple years, so we used to go over to Fire Island and I just loved it; it was great, we were by family. East Islip, I think, is great, so I really enjoyed growing up there.

Q: Your coach at East Islip was the great Sal Ciampi. What motivation and advice from Sal helped you the most in your career.

A: Sal was a tough man. And he worked us hard. He expected perfection, demanded excellence, so we were practicing a lot to try and get everything perfect, which was difficult, but you saw the results of it that we were always a disciplined team, we were always fundamentally sound. I don't know if we always had the most talent against other teams, but I think because we always were coached so well we would win. So I appreciated that about him. He gave you a work ethic and he made you expect to do great [and] to be great and he made you expect to win.

Q: You started off your Major League career with the Atlanta Braves. Your manager was Hall of Famer Bobby Cox, fourth on the all-time manager's win list; [and you’re] teammates with the three aces, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz; the face of the franchise Chipper Jones, as well as Andrew Jones and Fred McGriff. How was it being teammates with all those legends?

A: It was awesome. It's intimidating, you know, when you are younger or just coming up to the big leagues, and just being on that team, they had been winning. There wasn't a lot of turnover, so maybe there were three new guys on the team each year. At the time, you know, you think Greg Maddux, for sure, this guy's gonna be a Hall of Famer. It definitely was a lot of fun and it's fun to win! You know, everyone wants to win and that's what we did.

Q: Being on the Braves, you played the Mets often. Obviously, that is a tremendous rivalry. How was that when you'd be back here, was that like a homecoming for you?

A: Yeah, it was fun. I'd have family and friends come to the games. When I was a kid, I would go to some Mets games, but I grew up a Yankees fan. Not sure why, maybe because my dad was a Yankees fan. I loved going back to New York, period. I loved the city. I'm a foodie, so I loved going back. Growing up in New York, you don't realize how great the food is until you leave. So I would love going back there to eat and also to see friends and family and to play, so I enjoyed playing against the Mets. I really loved playing at Yankee Stadium; for me, that was really special. But it's always nice to have family and friends in the stands and it's funny, I grew up, my name was Anthony and somehow in pro ball my name got changed to Tony. I didn't ask for it; an announcer just started doing it and then the next thing you know, it started showing up on all my baseball cards and said “Tony.” But when I would go back to New York, I could always tell who knew me from when I was a person from East Islip because they would be shouting, "Anthony! Anthony!" I knew right away; I said, whomever that is, they know me.

Q. In the postseason with the Braves, White Sox and Red Sox, did any of your lineups have a pitcher you feared the most? If so, how did your team try to find a way and figure him out?

A: You know, it's funny, when I was with Atlanta we ended up losing to the Padres, to the Marlins, and I wanna say Kevin Brown was on both of those teams. And he was just so dominant, so difficult. And I don't remember getting any ABs against him. I don't think I played in those games when he pitched, but he was a guy [where] you never know what's going to happen in a playoff game. A guy can be a dominant pitcher and then just not have the best game, or a guy can be not one of those dominant ones and he can go out and absolutely dominate. I think there's so much that plays into it with the pressure and the fact that every at bat, every out, every run, is so crucial, anybody can be dominant. So I can't really name one pitcher that I'd say was dominant, but I know the idea against all of them was always work the counts, work the guy, try and get his pitch count up and try and get into the bullpen and manufacture runs [as] if every run matters. You’re almost always playing each inning as if you can just score one run. Get a guy on, get him over, drive him in. That was always the mentality.


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