Making the Leap

Whether it’s on the diamond or at the altar, things are looking up for Griff Jenkins

Griff Jenkins doesn’t like waiting.

At the plate, Jenkins’ favorite pitch is the first pitch. And if it’s a fastball, like the one he launched out of Brown’s Murray Stadium for his only collegiate home run last April, even better.

Jenkins isn’t waiting to visit the altar, either. He’s engaged to marry his high school sweetheart, Ashley, this summer.

But Jenkins, a senior second baseman, has had to wait for the better part of four years for a regular gig on the Crimson infield. He has waited almost three years now, since Harvard’s last Ivy League title in 2005, for another chance to suit up in the NCAA Tournament.

Let’s just say he doesn’t want to wait any longer.

Now, he may not have to. The Crimson is as good a pick as any to emerge from Ivy ranks that feature unprecedented parity—leading publication Baseball America tabbed it the preseason favorite—and Jenkins is among the candidates for the second-base job vacated by last year’s captain Brendan Byrne ’07.

“It’s an open position right now—I think we’re all going to get a shot,” Jenkins says of second base. “Hopefully, I’ll do my best, play well, and [coach Joe Walsh] will respect that.”

Joining Jenkins in the mix is senior Taylor Meehan, who hit .360 in the Ivies as a sophomore but sat out all of last year with a shoulder injury; versatile junior speedster Matt Rogers; and promising freshman Sean O’Hara, who is nursing a shoulder ailment of his own that will keep him from playing in the field in the season’s opening weeks.

If Harvard’s season-opening three-game set at nationally ranked Wichita State is an indication, Jenkins’ equal-opportunity assessment is accurate. Jenkins, Meehan, and Rogers started one game apiece at second (all of them hit safely), while O’Hara got a couple of looks at designated hitter. Even if he ends up settling into a platoon or utility role, Jenkins has the confidence of a full-timer.

“I feel like I’ve always been ready for that role,” he says. “I’m definitely ready to step up and play when called on. I think that I can perform well in that situation.”

Jenkins is also relishing his role as one of the club’s veterans, a senior who remembers the talent and cohesiveness of the ’05 Ivy title squad. Jenkins and the other seniors have made what he calls “a conscious effort” to recreate the close-knit chemistry they enjoyed their rookie season.

“We have the makings of a team that is as good, if not better, than that team,” he says.

Through three years with the Crimson, Jenkins saw the field mainly as a late-inning defensive replacement or a right-handed pinch hitter, but was thrust unexpectedly into the starting nine down the stretch of last season when Byrne went down with an injury. In the second game of a Sunday doubleheader in Providence, Harvard desperately needed a win to keep pace with the Bears in the standings Jenkins came up to the plate in the fourth inning with his team nursing a narrow lead.

Ever the hacker, Jenkins unloaded on—what else—a first-pitch fastball and saw it soar out towards the tall net above the fence in left field.

“As soon as I hit it, I took two hard steps out of the box and I looked up and I thought, ‘You know, I think that has a chance,’ and the more I looked at it I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s definitely got a chance,’ and it went over the net,” he recalls. “I didn’t smile. I was trying to act like I’d been there before, so I didn’t smile till I got to third base and Coach Walsh had this big grin on his face.”

Even the team’s typical power guys were awed by the 5’9 Jenkins’ moonshot.

“He takes a mighty cut and when he gets it, he gets it,” says senior right fielder Tom Stack-Babich. “He crushed that one.”

“That was definitely the highlight of last year,” Jenkins adds.

Jenkins hit another home run with his October marriage proposal on the banks of the Charles. In beautiful autumn weather, with Stack-Babich hiding out taking photographs, and with a ring Ashley unwittingly transported north from their native North Carolina (assist to mom), he popped the question.

“That’s one of those Southern things, it’s kind of traditional,” Jenkins says. “I’ve been dating the same girl off and on since eighth grade and so when you do a long-distance relationship for four years and there’s 600 miles between you, you’re pretty much ready to be together. As long as you can make it through that, you know you’re probably going to make it through a lot of other stuff, too.”

The happy couple plans to settle in New York, where Griff will be starting an investment banking job and Ashley hopes to start teaching. The wedding is scheduled for August, back home in North Carolina. They can’t wait.

“His fiance will call and they’ll talk about where they’re registered, and what band is going to play at their wedding, and where they’re going for their honeymoon,” Jenkins’ close friend, Crimson captain Matt Vance says. “It’s kind of surreal.”

In the meantime, in his last go-round as a collegiate baseballer, Jenkins will try to nail down the second-base job and help propel Harvard to another Ivy League crown. He’s been waiting.

—Staff writer Jonathan Lehman can be reached at jlehman@fas.harvard.edu.

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