Morning Buzz

For the Love of Baseball

Hitting the road for America’s pastime

Jennifer Oakley
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Todd Griggs, Elna Griggs, Aaron Griggs

ROOT FOR THE HOME TEAM Todd and Elna Griggs, along with son Aaron, (pictured at Minute Maid Park) are serious Houston Astros fans who followed the team to spring training in Florida. (Photo:

It took West U resident Todd Griggs 5,025 miles and 32 years to come full circle. For the tall and athletic Texan who grew up in Longview, a trip to Astros training camp in Kissimmee, Florida, last Spring Break had an unexpected and happy result.

His story, like so many other baseball stories, is about dreams rooted in the love of the game – and life lessons that come with hitting the road for America’s pastime.

Todd is one of many Buzz residents who log miles and hours for everything from attending select team youth tournaments to touring MLB parks. Memories are being made as families travel to their own fields of dreams.

As a standout centerfielder in his youth, all Todd wanted to do was play baseball in college. He says that his speed, batting and arm were good enough to get him noticed, and year-round baseball helped keep his dream alive. He was even invited to attend a rookie camp with the Phillies organization.

“I was fortunate enough to attend the Augie Garrido baseball camp each summer while he was coaching at Cal State Fullerton,” Todd says of his middle school and high school years. “One year, our guest speaker was Gary Pettis, a great centerfielder for the Angels. He began speaking, and much to my surprise, he didn’t talk to us all that much about baseball. What he talked about to us was way more important and stuck with me forever.”

Todd was 13 years old at the time. “He talked to us about the fact that none of us would play professional baseball, but we were using baseball to learn how to deal with adversity. We were using baseball to learn how to work really hard to be great at something. We were using baseball to learn how to be team leaders. And we needed to all learn how to apply all of those things to our lives outside of baseball,” says Todd, manager of financial planning for Freeport McMoRan Oil and Gas.

“He said it was easy to do all of those things inside the confines of a sport that was fun, but to be successful we needed to learn how to apply all of those things to school work or whatever career we chose as adults after baseball. That had a very profound impact on me as a young man growing up in a small town looking for a way to make it in a bigger city someday as an adult.”

Aaron Griggs

BIG LEAGUE Aaron Griggs (pictured at Minute Maid Park), a die-hard Astros fan, went to spring training to watch the Astros play. (Photo:

Later on at the end of high school, when a shoulder injury permanently shut the door on his Big League dreams, Todd turned to those words for comfort and inspiration. “Once my playing days ended, I really didn’t follow the game as much. It was always tough for me to watch, knowing I could no longer play.”

Time moved on, and so did Todd. He went to The University of Texas and married his college sweetheart, Elna. Together they have a son, Aaron, now 9 years old and in third grade at Annunciation Orthodox School.

And, when Aaron started to play baseball, just as Todd had, something shifted in his heart, and baseball became a family affair. “Having Aaron love the game so much has certainly rekindled my love of the game,” he says.

“Whether it be attending Astros games or watching Aaron play ball, we can often be found at one baseball field or another,” enthuses Elna, who is an attorney with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. “Baseball is such a bonding agent for our family. Todd coaches, Aaron plays, and I sit nervously watching my two favorite people do their thing.”

On weekends, the family piles their car full of baseball gear and drives to Aaron’s select baseball tournaments. Aaron plays West U Little League and is also on two tournament teams: the West U Wranglers and the Houston Royals, coached by former MLB player Ben Bronson.

One night last spring, over a dinner of queso and wine (“terrible combination, right?” laughs Elna) the Griggs and some friends decided to plan a trip to Astros spring training. They pulled it together and took off for Florida to watch the Astros in the final spring training at their old facility in Kissimmee.

“I would absolutely recommend this trip to other families,” says Elna. “It’s baseball in an intimate and laid-back environment.”

“One really great moment,” says Todd, “was after the St. Patrick’s Day game when the players were heading into the club house and they stopped to sign autographs. Astros outfielder Tony Kemp had just made a spectacular diving catch that preserved the Astros lead for the day. When Tony got to Aaron, Aaron told Tony what a great catch he had made. Tony responded, ‘Thank you, young man! You know, I was thinking about giving my cleats away today – would you like them?’ He signed both shoes, chatted with Aaron for 30 seconds and walked off the field in his socks. Aaron loves those shoes to this day, and they are proudly displayed on his dresser.”

Next year they plan to watch the Astros in their new complex in West Palm Beach.

Jake Haysley, Karen Haysley

SWING FOR THE FENCES Karen Haysley and son Jake stand on the mound at the new Tiras Family Complex field. Jake has played Bellaire Little League since he was 5. (Photo:

Another Buzz family going the distance for baseball are Karen and Mike Haysley and sons Michael and Jake of Bellaire. They are looking forward to the 1,721-mile trek they will make to Cooperstown, New York, in June. As a member of the Bellaire Bats baseball team, 12-year-old Jake will compete in The Cooperstown Dreams Park and American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Invitational Tournament.

Karen, a self-proclaimed baseball mom and part-time retail consultant, says although they have gone to tournaments in the Houston area, “this is our first time traveling together as an entire team – this is our ‘hurrah!’”

Competing at Cooperstown as a 12 year old is what dreams are made of. “Playing at Cooperstown, where the Baseball Hall of Fame is located, is going to be all baseball, all the time, for one week,” says Karen. “The boys will stay in the player barracks with the coaches, and all of the families are staying in the same house. I can’t imagine a better celebration of all of the hours we’ve spent in the stands together.”

And they have logged a lot of hours since Jake started playing Bellaire Little League at the age of 5. One year later he joined the Bellaire Bats and the Haysley household started to beat to the sound of a baseball year-round. “I love having a car full of them on the road for tournaments,” says Karen. “I honestly chose the car I drive (an SUV that seats seven) so that I have room to haul the boys and their friends around. We play the baseball music playlist that they have created on my phone. I’m pretty sure that cars around us can hear them singing, and it takes the edge off the big game that is about to take place.”

Jake’s love of baseball connects Karen to her childhood playing softball. “If Mom couldn’t find us, we were at the baseball fields. We often look back on our middle school years and recall that the only time we could get away with anything in Bellaire was Sunday night. That’s when our parents all played in the adult softball league.”

Jake Haysley

ON DECK Jake Haysley (pictured at the new Tiras Family Complex field) plays year-round baseball with the Bellaire Bats. The team will go to Cooperstown, New York, for a tournament this June. (Photo:

Karen says the sports lessons she learned then have translated to how she and attorney husband Mike relate to their sons: “It’s not how you fall down. It’s how you get back up. Many of our big life talks are about falling down and getting back up. There is no greater place to learn how to do this than on the baseball field.”

The long talks have long-lasting lessons. “One play, one at bat, one error can change the game, but you have to get back up and go back on that field with all you’ve got. These kids are going to make mistakes. It is part of life. It is how you own that mistake and recover that will change your course in life.”

“The greatest part about the Bats is that I get to play with the greatest boys in the world,” says Jake, a Pin Oak Middle School student. “They are always there for me, and I am going to be there for them, too.” He can’t wait to get to play at Cooperstown. “I am looking forward to having a good time with teammates,” says Jake, whose position is pitcher. “But what I am most excited about is the roar of the crowd. They will pump my team up, including me. Baseball means everything to me.”

That feeling that baseball evokes – when the sport transcends two teams playing on a diamond – is evident when Todd talks about that chance meeting that brought him face to face with the idol he had met in Fullerton, Calif., all those years ago.

“Gary Pettis is now the third-base coach for the Astros,” says Todd. “The truly special Spring Training moment for me occurred when I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Pettis again and thank him for caring enough to come out and talk to a group of kids at a baseball camp and for giving a young man a life lesson I have carried with me every day since.”

Karen Haysley’s Baseball Pump-Up Playlist

Sail: Awolnation
Dum Dee Dum: Keys N Krates
It's Tricky: Run–DMC
Hall of Fame: The Script
Heathens: Twenty One Pilots
Stereo Hearts: Gym Class Heroes
Welcome to the Jungle: Guns N’ Roses
My House: Flo Rida
Can't Hold Us: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Super Bass: Nicki Minaj
Secrets: OneRepublic
So What: Pink
Thunderstruck: AC/DC
Happy: Pharrell Williams
Me and My Gang: Rascal Flatts
You Can't Always Get What You Want: The Rolling Stones
Ice Ice Baby: Vanilla Ice
The Man: Aloe Blacc
Side to Side: Ariana Grande
G.D.F.R.: Flo Rida
All Time Low: John Bellion
Some Nights: Fun
Can't Stop the Feeling: Justin Timberlake
Starboy: The Weeknd
Don't Let Me Down: The Chainsmokers

See Jennifer Oakley's Dreaming of Fields: Families hit the road for baseball for more baseball stories from Buzz residents. 

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