[nfbwatlk] Griffey checks into Mariners camp

Mike Freeman k7uij at panix.com
Sun Feb 22 14:45:34 UTC 2009

Ken Griffey Jr. (center) cracks up manager Don Wakamatsu (left) and 
general manager Jack Zduriencik at a press conference at the Mariners' 
spring training facility in Peoria, Ariz., on Saturday. (Scott Eklund / 
Griffey checks into Mariners camp
Last updated February 21, 2009 5:24 p.m. PT


PEORIA, Ariz. -- Ken Griffey Jr.'s familiar blue cap was in its 
familiar, fun place -- backward. The jokes, the huge gum bubbles and the 
boyish grin were back, too.

On his back, that blue No. 24, outlined in teal. It's the number with 
which he became a superstar in Seattle but hadn't worn in nine years.

"I thought about wearing 45, like Mike," Griffey jokingly said of his 
pal Michael Jordan, who once resumed his NBA career while briefly 
wearing that unfamiliar number. "But that didn't work."

Everything else did on a Saturday that rejuvenated the Mariners and all 
of Seattle.

The 39-year-old slugger thought to be fading to retirement last year 
looked revitalized, like it was 1989. Junior was "home" again. Back at 
his old, corner locker for spring training. Back where his career began 
as a 19-year-old with a grin and a backward cap 20 years ago.

"I knew exactly where I was going. I think I know this clubhouse better 
than most people here," baseball's active leader with 611 home runs said 
with a laugh.

In that clubhouse, he cracked up awed Mariners teammates -- some nearly 
half his age. Then came a formal, superhero's welcome of a news 

It began with Griffey looking uncomfortable, laughing nervously behind 
his hand with his head bowed. It ended with him zinging jokes around the 

"You always want to start and end your career with the same team," he 
said. "Not saying that this is the end of my career, but it's an 
opportunity to do what I said I was going to do. And that's come back 

The son of former Reds hitter Ken Griffey Sr. said of Seattle: "I was 
pretty much raised in Cincinnati. But I grew up here."

He later hit in an indoor cage for 12 minutes, with rookie manager Don 
Wakamatsu pitching. His first workout with the Mariners comes Sunday 

He called the nine years since he's left "a little rough sometimes" 
because of injuries that have derailed a still-outstanding career.

He missed time in Cincinnati with injuries to his shoulder, hamstring, 
quadriceps, ankle and foot. Then after he was traded to the Chicago 
White Sox last July, Griffey had arthroscopic knee surgery. Many thought 
his career was finished.

The Mariners are banking on him being as healthy as he was in 2007, when 
he hit 30 home runs and had 93 RBIs with the Reds.

Asked what he expected from himself at age 39, Griffey looked to his 
right at Wakamatsu and joked: "I figure that I should start off in the 
leadoff spot, just move Ichiro down ...

"No, I may not hit 50 (home runs), I may not hit 40. I may not hit 30," 
he said. "But I can move runners over, do the little things it takes to 

"My dad had three rings. I want one."

Griffey took the advice of legends Willie Mays and Hank Aaron while he 
weighed similar offers from Atlanta and Seattle this week. He said you 
can't think of baseball in San Francisco without thinking of Mays, you 
can't think of Atlanta without Aaron.

When asked if he wants people to think "Griffey" when they think of 
Seattle, he said: "This is a step in the right direction."

He is the Mariners' career leader in home runs (398), single-season home 
runs (56, twice) and slugging percentage (.569). He trails only Edgar 
Martinez in team history in games played with 1,535.

After resolving final contract details, he signed a $2 million, one-year 
deal Saturday morning. The contract includes plate-appearances and 
attendance-based bonuses that could push his pay toward $4 million, a 
nod to the buzz from Arizona to Seattle in the three days since he 
agreed to return.

The Braves thought Griffey was coming there this week because he wanted 
to stay close to his family. They did not offer the attendance bonuses. 
The Mariners threw those in last week, realizing how adding much adding 
Griffey would galvanize a fan base numbed last year by 101 losses.

Mariners president Chuck Armstrong, the key man who brought Griffey 
back, said the team lost money for the first time since it moved into 
palatial Safeco Field in 1999. That didn't hurt in wanting Griffey, 
either -- though the Mariners' baseball people insist they wanted him 
because he can still hit and will lead a clubhouse that was a fractured 
mess last season.

They have already decided Griffey will be in left field when his legs 
feel fine. When baseball's active leader with 611 home runs says he 
needs a break, he'll be the DH.

"If he plays, we draw and we win, he ought to get more money," said 
Armstrong, who befriended Griffey almost from the day Seattle drafted 
him first overall in 1987. "I hope I write those checks."

Armstrong had wanted Griffey back since 2000, when he called the slugger 
two weeks after Seattle traded him to Cincinnati and told him he wanted 
Griffey retiring as a Mariner. About 10 days ago, Seattle general 
manager Jack Zduriencik decided Griffey was the left-handed bat he 
needed. Armstrong then flew to Pebble Beach, Calif., where Griffey was 
playing in a golf tournament, for a six-hour push to get Griffey to 

Last Sunday night, Griffey was at Mariners' camp for a physical and a 
two-hour meeting with Wakamatsu and Zduriencik. Monday, he met with 
Braves officials in Orlando.

Tuesday and Wednesday, he studied the schedules of the Mariners and 
Braves. Then he brought out the summer basketball schedule for his 
13-year-old daughter Taryn, the youth-league slate of 6-year-old son 
Tevin and the high school football schedule for 15-year-old son Trey. He 
spread all those across the kitchen of his home.

"A couple of my friends thought I was drafting someone, for a 
first-round pick. It was like a war room. I had stuff everywhere," he 
said. "It was tough, but I think I made the right decision.

"I said I was going to go back (to Seattle). And I did."

© 1998-2009 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
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