Prep Baseball Report

Griesbaum: Teaching Life Skills Through Baseball Is What It’s About

Bruce Hefflinger
Michigan Senior Writer

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Griesbaum: Teaching Life Skills Through Baseball Is What It’s About

GROSSE POINTE - “If you’re afraid to lose, you’re never going to win.”

That is how Dan Griesbaum Sr. assesses playing a difficult schedule year after year. While there have been more than 500 defeats in his long coaching career, the Grosse Pointe South head coach - who recently picked up his 900th career win - understands the value of being part of the lives of baseball players he has mentored along the way, win or lose.

“As much as I want to win, we are all about teaching life skills through baseball,” explained the winningest active Michigan High School baseball coach. “You can win and still do things the right way. You don’t have to cheat and recruit. Do things the way you want to be treated. Control what you can control … attitude and effort.

“I’m most proud to have accomplished this (900 wins) with half a suburb. We’ve had to battle North, which has won two state titles and been to the finals five times.”

South has also claimed a pair of state championships under the direction of the long-time mentor, winning it all in 2001 and 2018. Ironically, the first crown that Griesbaum was part of came in 1980 as an assistant coach at Grosse Pointe North.


“It’s been great,” Griesbaum said of a head coaching career at South that began in 1984. “Obviously, it’s due to a lot of great kids, great parents and a really really supportive community, a baseball community. I’m blessed to be here.”

No head coach can do it alone and the 71-year-old understands that well.

“We’ve had tremendous assistants at all levels,” pointed out Griesbaum, who stands fourth when it comes to all-time coaching wins in high school baseball in the state of Michigan. “The three coaches with me now - my son (Dan Griesbaum Jr.), John Hackett and Matt Reno - have been with me a combined 76 years. There’s no way I could have accomplished this without them.

“The experience they have … My son played D-I; John, our pitching coach, got up to Double-A; Matt was all-conference at Grand Valley; and I played D-I at Central. The knowledge and experience is so valuable.”

To reach 900 wins with people he is close to only adds to the meaning of it all.

“I didn’t throw, I didn’t pitch, I didn’t hit,” Griesbaum explained. “We, hopefully, have tried to teach the game as much as we can, the fundamentals and the mental part of the game.

“One thing we’ve had a reputation for is having larger squads. I probably play more kids than most. We have 900 students and some of the schools in the MAC Red have as many as 3,000 students. We play a tough schedule. If you want to be among the elite you have to play the elite.

“We got beat up early on, but we learned from it. We wanted to emulate some of those programs. Guys get better playing good competition.”


Griesbaum remembers his beginning well.

“I wanted to contend for a state title within five years,” Griesbaum reflected on his initial thoughts as the 1984 season began. “We got there in ’87, my first Final 4 team. We’ve been there now eight times, the most of any public school (Brother Rice and Detroit Catholic Central are the only ones with more appearances). We only had two returning starters that year and we went to the Final 4.”

There was an Elite 8 appearance in 1992 and another trip to the Final 4 in 1996 prior to bringing home the first state championship in 2001.

“There were years we didn’t expect to do a lot but we did,” Griesbaum said. “In ’18 when we won it we lost our top two pitchers for a month, each of them.”

There is another highlight that stands out.

“We went to the Final 4 three times in five years - twice,” Griesbaum related. “That’s a pretty nice accomplishment.”

The first came with trips to state in 2001, 2003 and 2005 and the second with Final 4 appearances in 2014, 2015 and the state title year of 2018.


Nobody has been around Griesbaum on the ball diamond more than his son, Dan Jr., who was a bat boy for South before playing for his father. A 1999 South graduate, Dan Jr. has been an assistant at his alma mater since 2003.

“He was certainly the one who laid the foundation for my life in baseball,” explained Dan Jr. “I ended up learning the game at every level over the last 35+ years, from bat boy, to being in a Major League front office for 15 years, and none of those things would have happened without him introducing the game and its nuances to me at such a young age.

“I went everywhere with my father during baseball season when I was very young and it didn't take long for me to learn hard work, how to be organized, victory, defeat, heartbreak, and that the game, such as life, is not always fair. In fact, I was probably only seven by the time I had a good grip on those adult concepts and I think it gave me a real leg up when it came to my later career coaching and also on the business side of baseball.”

The passion to coach and help mold his players is what it is all about according to the elder Griesbaum, who in addition to coaching baseball was an assistant football coach at South for 18 years as well as volleyball coach for four years.

“Seeing kids have success, the looks on their faces, the good times with their teammates, overcoming obstacles, it’s all very rewarding to guide young people,” Griesbaum said. “What’s so important to me is we try to do things the right way. People say nice guys finish last, you have to find a way to win. Sure, everybody wants to win, but it’s more about teaching life skills. Doing things the right way, organizing and learning. You have to be a lifelong learner in this game.”


His son has certainly learned a lot along the way, with 19 years in professional baseball as an executive with the Detroit Tigers and the United Shore Professional Baseball League in addition to his time as an assistant coach at South. The younger Griesbaum credits his father for paving the way. 

“He taught me that sometimes the good guys can actually win,” Dan Jr. said. “He’s never compromised his ethics or his philosophies for the sake of winning games and yet we’ve won as much as almost anyone. I’ve learned from him that success will never mean anything to you if you don’t do things the right way. When we’ve won at a high level, I know it’s meant more to us than it has to some people because we know how hard we’ve worked for it. We know that we’ve done things the right way and that we can proudly look at ourselves in the mirror, win or lose.

“I know that he could easily have another 100 or more wins by now had he gone about things differently, but that’s not what he wanted. He wanted to give a lot of kids the chance to play and he wanted to play the best competition, even though we are a smaller neighborhood-based school. I haven’t necessarily loved every tough day, and the losses never get easier, but I’ve certainly come to appreciate it and I’ll always believe that anything worth doing is worth doing the right way.”

South rosters have included as many as 25 players in a single season under the direction of Griesbaum.

“Our record is never going to be terrific, we’re not going 38-0 or 35-2 because of the competition we play,” Griesbaum explained. “We made it to the state finals in 2014 with 18 losses.”

That is the philosophy used by Griesbaum, who taught health for 30 years before retiring in 2014.

“I’ve learned that it’s not about you as a coach, records are not ever for me,” Griesbaum said. “Winning was the ultimate goal, but I’ve learned that life skills are more important. We talk about life stuff all the time, not just baseball. Overcoming obstacles and failures. Your life can be dependent somewhat on how you handle failure.

“You’re going to be a teammate the rest of your life in whatever you do. Come to practice to make the team better and later on in life it’s about how you act for the common good, doing things the right way.”


A 1971 graduate of South Lake and ’75 grad of Central Michigan, Griesbaum had high expectations when it came to his athletic future.

“When I was 17-18 I thought I might play professionally,” Griesbaum reflected. “I went to Central and had a decent career there, I was the team MVP in ’75. After that I thought I might coach in college. I was a grad assistant but then I came here and got a job at Grosse Pointe. It’s been a marriage ever since. It’s been a very rewarding career.”

One that has now reached 906 wins and counting for Griesbaum, a member of the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame who would be remiss to not mention a “very supportive wife” for helping make the journey complete.

“I’ve never looked at milestones,” explained Griesbaum, whose career coaching record is currently 906-510-4 heading into Thursday’s game with Romeo. “People ask, are you going to be around for 1,000? But I don’t look at it like that. I’m appreciating the journey more than the destination right now. The camaraderie of the kids and the coaches. Going to Florida the last couple of years has been a blast.

“Winning was probably more important early in my career, but what’s more important now is the journey and relationships. I made a commitment to my faith 25 years ago. That inspired me to do the right thing and put more emphasis on the kids’ individual needs more than me and winning.”

It is advice he would give to anyone that enters the profession.

“Put kids first, no doubt,” Griesbaum said of what advice he has for future coaches. “It’s not about you and your record, it’s about giving kids a positive experience. Do things the right way, with class and dignity. You’ve got to be a role model. You need respect from your players, the parents and the community, otherwise you’re not going to be successful.”

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