Armed with a stopwatch and a notepad, the 68-year-old sat stoically with the brim of his cap pulled low and his glasses perched on his nose, intently studying the battle between Danville pitcher Josh Graham and Johnson City batter Anthony Ray.
Greer is in his first year as the hitting coach in Johnson City, but in truth, his job extends far beyond Cardinal Park. The St. Louis Cardinals lured Greer away from the Mets organization prior to this season and named him offensive strategist for the Cardinals’ entire minor league system.
In addition to mentoring the young hitters in Johnson City, which leads the Appalachian League in team batting average, Greer is still trying to solidify his role in the organization.
“I think we’re still trying to figure out exactly how this all is going to work,” he said. “I’m given special assignments, asked to do special things once in a while here and there and asked my opinion on some things.”
So what makes Greer’s opinion on hitting so valuable, you ask? For starters, Greer has spent the last 45 years as a player and coach studying the one-on-one matchup between pitcher and batter that is at the heart of the game.
He’s taken graduate-level classes in biomechanics to break down the battle from the pitcher’s perspective in order to reverse engineer successful approaches for hitters to get a leg up. After his playing career topped out at the Triple-A level of the Cards’ organization, he went on to coach college for 30 years, a journey that took him from the University of Connecticut-Avery Point to Davidson and eventually to Wake Forest, where he amassed a record of 608-382-4 and won three ACC titles.
He then joined the Mets organization in 2005, coaching and managing in the minors until the Cards came calling. During Greer’s time in the game, a lot has changed, but the eternal battle between pitcher and hitter has remained largely the same.
“You try to match his weaknesses against your strengths as a hitter and try to maximize your opportunities to put the bat on the ball,” Greer said. “You look for certain pitches, and of course, the pitcher is trying to pitch you out of rhythm and out of balance. He makes adjustments toward you, and you make adjustments toward him. It’s a game of adjustments.”
Despite the fact that Greer was a two-time All-America selection in college and had a productive career in the minors, his most enduring moment as a player came back in 1967 during a contentious, politically-charged series of contests against Cuba in the Pan American Games.
Greer was the captain of a team that included future big league pitchers John Curtis, Paul Splittorf and Ray Blosse as well as future Southern Cal quarterback Steve Sogge and Mark Marquess, who went on to coach the Stanford baseball program to over 1,500 wins and a pair of national titles.
While baseball was the focus for Greer and his teammates, the political firestorm surrounding the event was impossible to block out.
“It was a very contentious time for the Pan American Games,” Greer said. “Ideologically, (the Cubans) were trying to spread their word across Latin America, and they had a lot of supporters among the Latin American teams.
“And of course, we were trying to ensure that our way of life was considered optimum.”
It was against that backdrop that the United States lost a pair of games to the Cubans in pool play, each one ending with the Cubans performing a conga line in front of the American dugout. Despite the setbacks, the Americans took care of business against their other opponents, setting up a three-game set against Cuba for the gold medal.
The teams split the first two games, setting up a winner-take-all contest on Aug. 5 in Winnipeg. With the score tied at 1 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Greer came to the plate with one out and the bases loaded in the midst of the driving rain. Before he walked to the plate, Greer had just one thing to say to his teammates.
“The rain was coming hard a little bit harder, and the guys told me later what I said,” Greer recalled. “I said, ‘Pack your bags, boys. We’re going home with the gold medal.’ I went up to bat with one out and hit a base hit up the middle on a curveball. That’s what I remember.”
To this day, the gold medal Greer helped win that day is the only one that Team USA has won in the Pan American Games. In the 48 summers since, Greer has been immersed in the game in one role or another, building a deep reservoir of knowledge the hitters in the Cardinals organization can now draw upon.
As Ray ripped a double off of Graham to put Johnson City ahead of Danville for good, Greer nodded with satisfaction. Score another one for the hitters.
While it was hard to leave the Mets, Greer said he couldn’t pass up the chance to put on a Cardinals jersey again and return to the organization that drafted him back in 1968.
“I had a chance to come home and hopefully contribute to the welfare and the well-being of the players, to teach them a little bit,” he said. “Hopefully I can pass on from the experiences I’ve had and help them develop a little bit.”