McKeesport, PA. – For many people across the sport of baseball it is more than just a game, it is a way of life. For Penn State Greater Allegheny Alumnus and former baseball player Clay Groff, baseball was and still is a major part of his everyday life and drives him to be the best he can be.
Groff started his journey with PSUGA in the fall of 2012 after being recruited by former head baseball coach Jim Chester. The Taylor Allderdice alumnus initially had different plans for his collegiate career, but after those plans got derailed, PSUGA became the place that Groff would grow to love.
“When I was in 10th grade, I used to always see coach Chester and coach Joe Ranali at all of our Taylor Allderdice baseball games,” said Groff. “Towards the end of high school, I didn’t thing PSUGA was the right choice for me. When my initial plans didn’t work out, coach Chester believed in my ability and my character and gave me a chance to play.”
Giving Groff that chance to play led to one of the most successful runs in PSUGA program history. During Groff’s four years with the team, they made it to the PSUAC Championship in each of the four seasons and were the PSUAC Champions three times. Groff and his teams also made it to three United States Collegiate Athletic Association Tournaments finishing as runners up in two of those seasons.
Groff was a major part of his team’s success hitting .339 with one home run and 60 RBI over his four-year career while serving primarily as a catcher for PSUGA. Groff loved his time at PSUGA and says he is blessed for the opportunity he was given to continue playing the game he loves at the next level.
“Playing at PSUGA was a life changing experience,” said Groff. “Over the course of four seasons I was truly blessed to be around a group of people who take baseball as seriously as I do. Coach Chester helped provide a true college baseball experience and pushed us to become better baseball players and better men.”
Things weren’t so smooth sailing for Groff to start out. In his freshman season, he was frustrated about playing time and not seeing the field as much as he would like to. Chester would end up sitting Groff for a length of time and that helped him to refocus on the game and push himself to be better every day.
“When I was a freshman, Coach Chester and I got into it a little bit about playing time,” said Groff. “A lot of coaches would have still played me because I was talented, but Coach Chester sat me for about 12 games. At the time I was not receptive to this, but looking back it taught me that the game owes you nothing. If you’re not out there on the field, the game will still go on without you.”
He responded by having one of his best offensive seasons hitting .333 during his freshman year as part of a team that finished as runners up in the PSUAC Tournament. Flash forward three years and Groff would have one of his best offensive season of his career. During his senior year, he hit .385 with one home run and 29 RBI in 130 at bats. He helped lead his team to their second USCAA Tournament and finished as runners up.
For Groff, the success at PSUGA felt right. His entire baseball career he had strived to do the best he can and PSUGA gave him the opportunity to achieve the success he was longing for.
“[The success] felt right,” said Groff. “Our team had the talent, and all the coaches I played for put in the time and sacrifice necessary to build a championship team. My whole life I had made it a goal to accomplish as much as possible in the game of baseball, and the PSUGA baseball program made that possible.”
Groff graduated from PSUGA in the fall of 2015 with his degree in Marketing and Management. Even though his career at PSUGA was done, his baseball career was only beginning. He would sign with the Salina Stockade of the Independent Pecos lead in 2016 taking his baseball career to the professional ranks.
His Pecos league career would last two seasons with Groff seeing action in nine games hitting .200 (3-15) with two RBI split between the Stockade and the Santa Fe Fuego. Although his time was short in pro ball, Groff learned that the same hard work that gave him success at PSUGA was needed at the professional level as well.
“The grind from PSUGA followed me to professional ball,” said Groff. “At PSUGA you don’t have the glamour and glitz that you get at some bigger schools. In the Pecos league you don’t have the same luxuries as some of the players at the higher levels. You have to be tough, proactive, and you really have to want it.”
After being released by the Salina Stockade in 2016, Groff thought his baseball career had come to an end. He knew it was time to step away from the field and find a new way to pursue the game he loved. That is when a small college in South Euclid, Ohio named Notre Dame College came calling and gave him a chance to stay in baseball.
“When I got released from the Stockade in 2016 I knew it was time to prepare for life after baseball,” said Groff. “I applied for about 20 jobs but the one at Notre Dame really caught my eyes. Coming from PSUGA, I was lucky enough to have references from two proven and successful college coaches which I think really helped me land the job at NDC.”
Groff is currently in his third year with Notre Dame College working as a Graduate Assistant where he works with hitters, outfielders, and catchers as well as running the developmental team and recruiting. During his time with the Falcons, his teams have gone a combined 67-89 and made it to the Mountain East Conference Playoffs one time.
“I now have an understanding of how things work,” said Groff. “When I got to college, I didn’t understand that college baseball is a business. Coaching careers are often dictated by whether or not and have their players conduct themselves in a first-class manner on and off the field.”
Groff continues to be highly involved in the sport he loves as he coaches the next generation of baseball talent. Through it all, it is the people in his life who have made all his success possible. His advice to someone pursuing a PSUGA career is to meet all the people you can and get to know them because they will help you not just in your sport but in your life.
“Meet the people,” said Groff. “Meet the people in the student community center, meet the professors, and meet the athletics staff. The people are what make PSUGA Great!”