LIVONIA, Mich. – Every young ball player dreams of signing a professional contract with a major league team and very few ever see that dream come true. Taylor Grzelakowski was one of those young ball players, dreaming of playing pro ball.
Four years ago, Grzelakowski signed a letter of intent to come play for the Crusaders. After playing catcher in high school, he caught just one inning in the Blue and Gold, spending most of his time between the outfield and the corner infield spots. As a freshman he was the designated hitter.
On Saturday, he signed a professional contract with the Minnesota Twins - to play catcher.
"It was just like I always dreamt it would be," said Grzelakowski on signing his contract. "Justin Ordenruff (United Shores Professional Baseball League Director of Baseball Operations) called me when I was out to eat celebrating Randy Dobnak getting singed by the Twins. [Justin] told me that they were going to sign me as well. The feeling is indescribable; my lifelong dream is just beginning."
The Fraser, Michigan native was a mainstay in the Crusaders lineup from day one as he started 190 of the 196 games in which he played. He hit .345 in 635 collegiate at bats with 50 doubles, four triples and 18 home runs. He scored 143 times and drove in 164. He also committed just seven errors in 475 fielding chances for a .985 career fielding percentage.
"The right mindset, respect for the people above me, playing the game the right way and believing in myself," said Grzelakowski on what it took to get to where he is. He went on to add, "What I mean by the right mindset is focusing on getting better every single day in some aspect of life. Know that you are where you are for a reason and compete. Playing the game the right way is all of the little things. Running on and off the field, being enthusiastic and enjoying the moments. Believing in myself was crucial to me. After my junior season, which was a down year I looked myself in the mirror and knew I was better and I worked too hard to play that poorly. My scout told me that one of the reasons he signed me because I sprint on and off the field every time and I showed great enthusiasm. Trust the process, it's a marathon not a sprint."
His best season came as a senior this season. The Crusaders' first basemen hit .426 with a .538 on-base percentage and .756 slugging percentage. He had 16 doubles, three triples and 12 home runs. He scored 59 runs and drove in 60 while also swiping 20 bases.
He credits the Madonna coaching staff over the past four seasons with helping him push to achieve his dream.
"Ted Falkner came in as the Head coach of Madonna in December, half way through my senior year. He pushed my name to everyone and anyone he could. He stuck his neck out for me from day one. Greg Haeger (Madonna head coach for 21 years) always pushed the mental side of my life. Baseball is a very frustrating game at times and he gave me the strength to push forward. Coach Mike George (Long-time Madonna Assistant, founded the program) is like a father to me. He is the reason that I ever stepped foot on the campus of Madonna University. He brought me in and took a chance on me. I will never be able to repay him for that."
Grzelakowski made them all proud and finished in the top 10 in numerous categories including on-base percentage, games played, runs scored, doubles, RBIs and walks.
"I am extremely proud of Taylor's accomplishments, but even more importantly seeing him grow and mature as a young man," said Falkner. "He has earned everything he has received and I am excited to see him excel at the next level. This is also important for our program. Taylor has been a great example for our guys, showing that good decisions, effort, hard work and love for the game can make your dreams come true. We are all watching him as he continues his journey. "
After spending much of the summer playing for the Utica Unicorns of the USPBL, Grzelakowski will continue his dream in Fort Myers, Florida where he will join the Gulf Coast League South division leading Twins. He'll join a team that features 2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft No. 1 overall selection Royce Lewis. The team plays their home games at Hammond Stadium and are in the Florida Rookie League.
Grzelakowski had another life changing moment after signing as he proposed to his high school sweetheart, Sarah Kijek.
"I have known that I was going to marry Sarah for a long time. The saying is, "who do you want standing next to me when all your dreams come true." Well, both of my dreams came true in one night. Playing professional baseball in an MLB affiliate organization and being engaged to the love of my life. It was the best 48 hours of my life. "
Grzelakowski has made the trip to Florida and, once he passes a physical, will begin his career as a Minnesota Twin.
"There are so many people that helped me get to this point and I'd like to say thank you to them all. My family, my fiancé Sarah, her family, Jim Essian, Cedrick Landrum, Ray Ortega, Justin Ordenruff, Andy Applebee, Ted Falkner, Mike George, Greg Haeger, Joe Loria, Matt Sandles, Dave Gulock, Houston Julian, Frank Gallagher and all my friends and teammates over the years. I wouldn't be here today without them."
Grzelakowski joins 2016 graduate, Evan Piechota, as Crusaders playing for MLB affiliate organizations. Piechota is currently pitching for the Bristol Pirates of the Appalachian League.
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