Grilli, Braves gear up for NCAA tourney

Reliever rooting for alma mater Seton Hall

Grilli, Braves gear up for NCAA tourney

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Like millions of other Americans, many Major League Baseball players will spend at least a portion of this next week constructing and evaluating their brackets for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, which begins on Tuesday.

But while the brackets will serve as the basis for a lot of fun clubhouse chatter during the final weeks of Spring Training, some players will have a genuine rooting interest for either their alma mater or the school they have rooted for since childhood. Braves veteran reliever Jason Grilli is actually hoping to fit into both of these categories.

Grilli is looking forward to watching a resurgent Seton Hall program carry the momentum of a Big East title into their first NCAA tourney appearance since 2006. But at the same time, he spent most of Sunday holding out hope that Syracuse would gain one of the final available spots.

"I'm happy to see Seton Hall turn their program around," said Grilli, who attended the school from 1994-97. "The years I was there they kind of struggled a little bit. To see them get some victories of late and get some attention is good for them and good for the school. But I grew up a huge Syracuse Orangemen fan and they've struggled of late too. I don't know if they'll get in, but it's always a fun time around the NCAA tournament."

Braves general manager John Coppolella loved watching his alma mater Notre Dame reach the NCAA Regional Final last year. He sees this year's Irish as a team that has done something similar to what he hopes his own underdog club will do once baseball's regular season begins.

"[Notre Dame] has a lot of good young players that have stepped forward," Coppolella said. "It's great when you see young players do something that many might not have expected. Not many people had them as a tournament team going into the year and they have exceeded expectations. We're hoping that same thing happens with [the Braves]."

Braves veteran pitcher Bud Norris will be pulling for the University of California during the tournament. But at the same time, he's just one of the many who are looking forward to all of the excitement that March Madness brings on annual basis.

"Everybody gets excited for the tournament," Norris said. "We'll have some brackets and side pools here in the clubhouse. It will be a lot of fun."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.