Pedro Grifol: Saying goodbye to Royals was emotional, but ‘it’s time to move on’

The desire for new and different led the Kansas City Royals to veer away from Pedro Grifol in their managerial search this fall. They landed on Matt Quatraro as the new manager, and they’ve built a coaching staff that, along with Quatraro, will help to shape changes to their processes.

Meanwhile, after 10 years with the organization in various roles, including minor-league coach as well as major-league hitting coach, quality control coach, catching coach and bench coach, Grifol now gets his chance to manage in the majors with the Chicago White Sox.

During his Tuesday session with reporters at the MLB Winter Meetings, Grifol spoke about leaving the Royals organization and finding a good fit in his new role helping lead a division rival.

Grifol had been a candidate for managerial openings with the Miami Marlins as well as the Royals and White Sox this offseason. In previous years, he’d been a finalist for the same position with the San Francisco Giants and had also been a candidate for openings with the Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles.

“Obviously my time in Kansas City was memorable,” Grifol said in response to a question from The Star. “We did some really nice things over there. Going through the process with the Marlins and here and in Kansas City, after I was done with it all and was able to reflect, I feel like this is the perfect spot for me. This is a really good ball club, really good people. It felt like family right away.

“I know you’ve heard (White Sox general manager) Rick (Hahn) talk about that, and I felt the same way from day one. I remember my wife asking me, ‘How did it go?’ And I said, ‘It felt a little different.’ I think I’ve gone through like seven interviews, and this one just felt a little different. It felt like family right away. It felt like we connected.”

Grifol said he picked jersey No. 5 with the White Sox in honor of Royals legend and Baseball Hall of Famer George Brett. Grifol initially worked under Brett when he joined the major-league coaching staff in 2013. Brett had remained a proponent of Grifol through the years.

Grifol, 52, had also become incredibly close with Royals star catcher and face of the franchise Salvador Perez.

Not only did Grifol serve as Perez’s catching coach, but the two typically spent time together training in the offseason in Miami, Florida, where they each live out of season. Perez even did a video conference call with Chicago reporters this offseason following Grifol’s hiring as Chicago’s manager.

In the past, Perez has described Grifol as a father figure, and Grifol echoed similar sentiments while speaking about Perez on Tuesday.

“It was emotional, and not just with (Perez),” Grifol said. “He’s like my son. I’ve had him for ten years, and you’ve heard him speak on that relationship. But guys like (Hunter) Dozier and Nicky Lopez and even Alex Gordon, ... there’s a lot of really good friendships built over time, but it’s time to move on.

“This is the way the game is, right? We’re not gone. Obviously we’re great friends, and now we’re going to compete against each other, but it’s time to move on and do something else in another place, and that’s here in Chicago.”

When the White Sox introduced Grifol at a news conference last month, Hahn said the club’s “exhaustive and expansive search” included an initial list of roughly 30 names. They then interviewed eight candidates.

During that news conference, Hahn described Grifol’s performance in the initial interview as him having “essentially knocked our socks off.”

That first meeting was supposed to be a 90-minute session, but went three hours.

“We sit here today and with the hiring of Pedro feel like we are taking a major step to putting ourselves back on track to the trajectory we all felt we were on in the previous seasons prior to last season’s disappointment,” Hahn said last month.

“In Pedro we are hiring someone who is a renowned communicator, a modern baseball mind who is seeking to build a cohesive and inclusive clubhouse environment and one where the attention to detail and the accountability will be priorities.”