Sal Fasano slowly stowed items in his travel bag Wednesday afternoon, measuring his words while attempting to reconcile the Jason Grimsley he just read about with the Jason Grimsley he knows.
When Fasano was purchased by the Baltimore Orioles last summer, he lived in a hotel until Grimsley heard about it. Grimsley, with the Orioles after returning from “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery, gave Fasano room and board in his rented suburban house.
When the two went out to eat, Grimsley picked up the check.
“He saved me and my family,’’ said Fasano, a catcher with Philadelphia.
“I love him.’’
Fasano was speaking the day after court records were released in which Grimsley was said to not only have told federal agents that he used illegal steroids, human growth hormone and amphetamines during his career, but also that he told agents names of others that he believed had done the same.
That is the part that Fasano and others in the game do not get.
“Indicting other people? That’s a tough thing to do,’’ Fasano said, before adding ominously, at least for those six redacted names in the court documents, “but he’s not a liar.”
“He’s a stand-up guy. What he says . . . obviously, that’s up to him. But he’s going to tell you the truth.’’
Former teammates describe Grimsley, 38, in much the same voice.
They call him a man dedicated to his profession but also not afraid to have fun, a quiet yet impish player and a practical joker in the bullpen, where he spent his final seven years after joining the Yankees in 1999.
Glove missing? A slap on the back of the head? Grimsley’s fingerprints are all over it.
A journeyman most of his major league career, Grimsley’s main claim to fame (before Tuesday) was when he sneaked into the ductwork at Cleveland’s Jacobs Field and dropped into the umpire’s room to steal a bat that umpires had confiscated from Albert Belle after it shattered, revealing cork, in a game in June 1995.
Other than that, his was principally a career on the edge, capped by a World Series ring with the Yankees in 1999, his first season back in the majors after spending most of 1997 in Triple-A Tucson and all of 1998 in Triple-A Buffalo.
Grimsley logged almost as much minor league time as major league time during his 22 years in the game after signing with Philadelphia out of high school, and his story may be easiest to comprehend in that context.
Former teammates paint a profile of a player who loved the ballplayer’s life, who wanted to stay in the game even after two serious arm injuries, and who understood more than most just how fine the line is between the Tucson Doubletree and the San Diego Mariott Marina.
Presented with that theory last week, one major league lifer, while requesting anonymity, said it sounded as plausible as any for the reason Grimsley used performance-enhancing drugs during his career, as court documents said. None of the players interviewed for this story said illegal substances were ever discussed.
“It was his decision,’’ Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran said before Thursday’s game against the D-Backs. The two were teammates in Kansas City from 2001-04.
“What I do believe is, a lot of people don’t do things on their own. They learn it from someone. That, to me, is the way it always seems to go.’’
As for naming names, Beltran continued: “He chose that. It’s sad. I don’t know what position they (federal agents) put him in to get that information. But it’s going to be difficult for him and his wife, his kids. At school other kids will make fun of them. ‘Your dad did this.’ ’’
Beltran, at the same time, is another who thought highly of teammate Grimsley, saying “he always pushed the other guys to work hard.
“When we ran sprints in Kansas City, he was the first one. Before the game, he was riding the bike for an hour. Every time he finished a game, he was back in the weight room. I didn’t see anyone work harder.
“He was about winning ballgames and he was a good teammate. When you were struggling, he was always there to give you encouragement.’’
But the recent revelations also drew a negative response from some former teammates.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen called Grimsley “a criminal,’’ and former Yankees teammate Jeff Nelson had harsh criticism.
“Take blame, take the hit and don’t be putting it on anyone else,” Nelson, a reliever now with the White Sox, told the Chicago Tribune.
“Why he did it, I don’t know. Maybe he was facing a bunch of criminal charges and tried to protect his own (behind). That’s all I can see.’’
If that is all Nelson can see, that view is tempered by Fasano’s.
“I’m as surprised about this as anybody,’’ said Fasano, who played with Grimsley in the minor leagues in 1997.
“I know the type of person that he is. I know the type of family that he has. He’s about as genuine a person as I’ve met. I know a lot of people in this game, and I haven’t met anybody better than Jason.’’