SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — One year after spending his nights in the local jail known as Tent City, Mark Grace is enjoying the next chapter in his life.
People make mistakes, and sometimes they even make the same one over again.
That’s what happened to Grace, who lost his job as the Diamondbacks’ TV analyst in 2012 after his second DUI arrest.
But after pleading guilty and spending four months in jail on a work-release program, Grace returned to the D’backs’ organization and reports to Oregon in June to begin his new stint as hitting coach of the Class A Hillsboro Hops.
“The good thing is it’s over with,” Grace said Thursday before the D’backs-Mariners game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. “I’ve paid my debt to society, I’ve paid my debt to the people of Arizona and I’ve paid my debt to myself.
“It might be a disguised blessing. It got me an opportunity to get back on the field. Thank God for the Diamondbacks for having my back on this and offering me the opportunity. Now it’s a whole new baseball life again. It’s awesome.”
Hillsboro is a short-season team in Oregon, about 20 miles from Portland, that plays in the Northwest League. The season begins June 13 with Grace joining manager J.R. House and pitching coach Doug Drabek on the Hops’ staff.
Diamondbacks executive Kevin Towers, one of the last of the dying breed of old-school general managers, was responsible for keeping Grace in the organization. Hillsboro may be a low rung on the baseball ladder, but Grace is hoping to use it as a stepping-stone to becoming a major league coach.
It’s too bad the Cubs didn’t share Towers’ belief in second chances. Grace would have been a popular choice to replace Keith Moreland as the radio analyst on Cubs broadcasts on WGN-AM 720, but he never was contacted.
Would he have considered the Cubs’ radio gig?
“It really doesn’t matter,” he said with a laugh, “because the call never came. But I’m pretty at peace with this right now. I really enjoy teaching.”
Grace stayed in the Maricopa County jail from mid-February through mid-June 2013, arriving at 6 p.m. and leaving at 6 a.m. to work with D’backs prospects.
During his sentence, Grace said he wasn’t concerned about the possibility of never returning to baseball.
“I wasn’t worried about baseball or coaching,” he said. “I was worried about my personal life — being a father, being a friend, being just better all around, taking my punishment and owning up to it.
“Now I can speak from experience about the bad things that can happen if you get behind the wheel after you have had a couple. Thankfully, nobody got hurt, didn’t damage any property. So in my heart at least there is no guilt about (injuring someone). The rest is over with and taken care of.”
It has been 14 years since Grace left the Cubs for Arizona, where he helped lead the D’backs to their only World Series championship in 2001. He still loves it here, but he can’t get Chicago out of his system.
“Chicago is the greatest city in the world,” he said. “I’m sure people reading about this winter probably wouldn’t say that. My friends back there have all told me they never had been through anything like it. It’s brutal, and it’s continuing as we speak.
“But there is no better sports town. And when I played there, the fans, they just wanted to hang out with us (players), and I think that was part of my popularity.
“Cubs fans, they love their own, and I tried like hell to be one of them and include them.”
Grace never got to experience a happy ending in Chicago.
But if he truly has learned from his mistakes, he may have one in life.