Favorite memories about Ken Griffey Jr.
Jay Buhner Everyone knows what he brought to the organization. He was the rock. He was the Mariners. He put the Mariners on the map. Everyone knows that. What...
Everyone knows what he brought to the organization. He was the rock. He was the Mariners. He put the Mariners on the map. Everyone knows that.
What people don't hear enough about is the amount of time and money he gives back to charities and people less fortunate.
I know he can be unapproachable, but at the same time, he opens his heart and wallet to various charities, especially the Make a Wish Foundation. I saw Junior, and one minute he'd be holding court with the media, busting everyone's chops. Then he'd be out with the kids from Make a Wish or Children's Hospital, and you'd see a totally different side.
He'd bring the kid into the clubhouse, literally take the jersey off his back, sign it and give it to the kid. Give him a bat, take him around and introduce him to everyone in the clubhouse, make him a sandwich — make the kid feel great. He didn't want people to see that side; he didn't do it for acknowledgment. He knows what it means to kids, and for that hour, he totally made a difference in the kid's life, and the family's life. I saw him do it over and over and over. Sure, that's part of the responsibility of being a professional athlete, but he became a totally different person. He would let his guard down and roll out the red carpet.
Junior has such a huge heart. Sometimes, we don't talk about that. We talk about how he can be tough, hard, stubborn, how he's rich, what car is he going to drive, and is the other car going to be pissed. We forget the little things he does that go way above and beyond.
I think the time when he brought the cow into Lou [Piniella's] office in spring training is the one that stands out the most. I remember, I didn't know exactly what was going on. I saw Lou coming out of the office, almost sick. I look inside, and there was a cow inside. It was one of the funniest things I saw in baseball, actually. Junior was laughing.
What a talent, an amazing talent. He had the whole package — defense, hitting for power, hitting for average, driving in runs. He could do anything on the field. Having a player that could do anything at every moment was quite a thrill. Because the rest of us had our limitations.
The play in the '95 playoffs, when he scored [from first base on Martinez's double off the Yankees' Jack McDowell] is an example. I hit the ball, and the left fielder got to the ball so quick. But Junior was able to beat out the play. That was incredible. He just won the game with his legs on that occasion. I was watching him run. I turned around first; I wanted to see whether he had a chance to score. I was looking. I was amazed how fast he was going. Amazed he was able to score.
Rick Griffin, trainer
Everyone is going to talk about when he scored on Edgar's double. But after that happened, there were a bunch of guys that were in the training room. Norm [Charlton], Jay [Buhner], Edgar [Martinez], Mike Blowers, Junior. They all jumped in the Jacuzzi, and they all had cigars. I thought it was so funny, because Junior had this huge grin — the same smile he had when he was on the bottom of the pile.
That was a really special thing. All those guys had been through a lot together. They went in there and jumped in with their clothes on. It was cool. We didn't have Champagne, I guess. It was all gone, so they all jumped in the Jacuzzi.
If Junior hadn't gotten hurt, we'd be talking about Junior being the one to threaten the home-run [record]. No question in my mind. No question at all. I mean, as it is, he's hit 611. That puts him where, in the top five? That's not bad. And he's probably missed — what would you say? — three years or so with injuries and so forth. Even at 30 a year, you're talking about over 700. What a great career he's had. What a great career. I hope he continues to play as long as he wants and as productive as he wants, because he's good for the game. Really good for the game.
And he's stayed clear of all the problems baseball has had, which to me is just as important.
We had fun. It had to be a little difficult for him in Cincinnati, playing in his hometown, all the expectations and everything. I don't know how much longer Junior wants to play, but he still has a lot of baseball left in him. Seattle is certainly a good place for him to be at this time.
I have some favorite moments with Junior, but they're personal. Baseball-wise, I've never seen a player who could elevate his game like he did. It was just overall, every day, the defense he brought, just the enthusiasm. I'm happy to see the same boyish enthusiasm today he had 20 years ago. He's still fun to have around. It's just really nice.
One great story, a recent one. I went down to meet him at Pebble Beach [when Griffey was contemplating signing with the Mariners]. There was a lot of noise and excitement at the golf tournament, so I said, "Kenny, can we go talk quietly somewhere?" Brian [Goldberg, his agent] was there. So we went back to his room at the lodge at Pebble Beach. Here's Ken Griffey, superstar, and he's got an ironing board set up in his room. I said, "What's with the board?' He said, "Well, I was coming to meet with you, and I wanted to look sharp."
That was really touching to me. Something that small — here's Junior, he could have sent out the valet, but he had his own ironing board, and he ironed his own shirt and pants.
Joe Chard, vice president, community relations
I can't remember what year, but there was a boy who had cancer. He was having bone-marrow treatment. Junior was supposed to see him in spring training, but the Make a Wish people called and said the bone marrow hadn't taken, and he wasn't doing very well.
So I called Ken, who was in Atlanta at the time. I explained the situation to him. He said, "I'll fly back early. Where can we meet?" So we met at the hospital. We went up to the room. The kid didn't look well. I was just blown away by the fact he went in and sat on the kid's bed, talked about riding motorcycles, held his bed pan when the kid got sick. I could not have done it myself without showing some sort of discomfort, but Junior just went about it, and made the kid feel, just, normal. They were laughing and talking about things teenagers do.
We walked out of there, just kind of in awe. Junior flew back early and had just taken over the whole situation. He made the family feel great, made the kid feel great. It was as heart-wrenching a situation as you could see.
It was just one of those humbling experiences. Junior had given the boy his jersey. The parents called after the boy passed, asked if it was OK if he was buried with Junior's jersey. Very humbling. A lot of guys are not comfortable in a hospital setting, but he has the ability to make people feel very comfortable.
His thing has always been, "I'll do it, but I don't want anyone there. This is for the family and the kid; not for PR. I want to give the person special time."
Rick Rizzs, broadcaster
One incident I remember — he was a kid in Tempe, just showing his mischievous side. I was at the park early with my son, Nick, who had just turned nine. He was in the clubhouse with Junior. They came out together. No one was there yet. I was standing by the dugout, and Nick was talking to Junior. All of a sudden, Nick walks up and kicks me in the leg. I look at Junior, and he's laughing like crazy. Nick said, "Junior said he'd give me 50 bucks if I kick you in the leg." I said, "I'll give you 100 if you go over and kick Junior." Junior was 19 years old.
The best part to me was how much fun he made baseball again. He reminded us of the joy we're supposed to feel in the game of baseball. He brought that to the forefront. Now he's back, and the smile is still there. He's still laughing and having fun. Ken Griffey reminds us that even though there's millions of dollars involved, this is still a game.
VP of Marketing
Junior at his best could really put a smile on your face. I remember the Turn Ahead the Clock Night — I believe it was '98. Everyone had done Turn Back the Clock; we had the idea, what if we went in the future. We'd always bounce ideas like that off the veteran guys; we bounced it off Ken. He got involved. He helped us pick the color of the uniform — brick red and black. He helped us design the look.
The day of the game arrives, and Henry Genzale has placed all the uniforms in the clubhouse. There were black vests with the logo exploded on it in a brick-red color, and they had brick-red sleeves to wear underneath. I show up at the park and go to the clubhouse. It's in the afternoon. There's Ken, who's got his uniform already on, and he's got these silver Nike shoes that were made special for the game. He's painted his glove silver, and he's cut the sleeves on the jersey.
I go up to him and said, "Junior, what's going on? The shoes are terrific, and the glove." He's like, "Oh yeah, this is going to be great. We're wearing our caps backward and our shirts untucked." I said, "You can't do that. You can't wear shirts untucked." He said, something like, "That's where you're wrong. We have precedent. The White Sox in the early '70s wore their shirts untucked and shorts." I said, "You have me there." I said, "Caps backward, that's not right." He said, "We're going into the future; everything's right."
He proceeds to run around the clubhouse. We had a third baseman named Rico Rossi. Junior starts spray-painting his shoes. Rico's just happy Junior is talking to him, I think. Next thing you know, Jay had dyed his goatee red for the game, to match the color of the uniform. They're running around the clubhouse spray-painting shoes. It was so much fun.
Sure enough, first inning, guy hits a ball in the gap, and there's Junior running with his cap on backward, silver shoes, shirt flapping in the wind, and makes a signature Junior grab up against wall. The phone rang in the press box. [Public relations director] Dave Aust picks it up. It's a producer at ESPN who's logging our game; he's says, "What in the world is going on in Seattle tonight?"
We weren't able to play the whole night with the shirts untucked. One of our guys got hit by a pitch, and the other manager said it was because the shirt was untucked. We had to eventually turn our hats around and play, but that first inning was pretty wild. Just Junior's enthusiasm made the event memorable.
Jim Copacino, Copacino + Fujikado, LLC
We produced four commercials with Griffey from 1996 to 1999; each was a memorable experience.
I don't have to tell you about the energy, presence and star power he brings to the party. He is a big personality who's at the center of everything he does.
One commercial particularly stands out: "The All-Griffey Team." The fiction was that Junior plays all nine positions on the team. Pitcher Griffey throws to catcher Griffey. The batter hits a fly ball, center fielder Griffey makes a great catch and throws a bullet to second baseman Griffey who doubles the runner.
The punchline comes from the opposing coach on the rail of the dugout who muses to his manager, "I'm dead set against this human cloning thing." The spot concludes with Griffey as a stadium vendor in the stands, hawking snow cones to a group of kids.
Griffey loved the idea and basically took over the production, in a good way: He ad-libbed lines, he contributed ideas — including having a "clone" of himself in the stands as a fan during the vendor scene at the end. He was charming, exuberant and full of life the entire night.
Usually, we schedule about an hour with a player when we shoot a commercial, and we try to be respectful of his time. In this case, Griffey hung around for three hours — cracking jokes, having fun, and lighting up the night with his energy. I brought my son, Christopher, to the production that year. It was the spring of 1998, the year after Junior was named MVP. Chris was 14 years old, and from age six, his bedroom walls were covered with Griffey posters. When Ken arrived on set, I introduced Chris to him: "Ken, this is my son, Chris." Junior looked at Chris, looked at me, and without hesitation said, "Good thing he looks like Mom!" Junior's style of humor is a combination of Don Rickles and Chris Rock.
When there was a lull in the shooting schedule, Griffey picked up a ball, tossed it to Chris, and the two played catch for 10 minutes in the outfield in Peoria. A great moment that will live forever in our family's memory.
One of my fondest memories of Junior [was when] we had an off day in Oakland, probably about 1991. We stayed in San Francisco. One of Lou's rules was that players could play golf on the road, but they couldn't bring their clubs. Junior asked the guys if they wanted to play golf on our off day. We said, "Sure." We didn't know where we were going.
He had one of his guys that worked for him in Seattle rent a trailer and hook it up to his SUV. His buddy threw all the clubs in the back and drove it from Seattle to San Francisco. He took us all to Pebble Beach — 16 people, four foursomes, lunch, the works. He footed the bill for all 16. It was probably my most memorable time in baseball.
Another memory: Junior was into cars when he was young. As he told the story, he was driving one day, and a guy pulled alongside him and wanted to race. So they're racing on 520, and this guy beat the socks off Junior, who was driving a Mercedes. He came in and said, "I have to order myself a car." He called and said, "I want the fastest Ford Saleen you can build, and I want it here to Seattle as soon as possible."
He was looking for the guy that beat the socks off him. I think he only had the Saleen a short time, and then Melissa bought him a Testarossa. He never found the guy that beat him on the bridge. Eventually, he realized the Testarossa was too fast for the roads of Seattle and traded it off.
I love the kid. He's the best athlete I've ever had the opportunity to describe.
The funniest thing that happened — and it wasn't funny at the time — was at old Tiger Stadium. Junior was shaded a little into right-center, and someone hit a ball that sliced into left-center. It was the last game of a series before we went to New York. Junior barreled over like a blue streak, reached out and must missed making the catch. I said on the air, "Junior usually makes that catch."
The next day, we got to Yankee Stadium, and I hear as I walk into the clubhouse, "Hey, Niehaus."
Oh, boy. "What do you want, Junior?"
"My people tell me you said I should have made that catch."
I said, "Your people don't have very good ears. What I said was, 'You usually make that catch.' "
He gave me that smile of his and said, "I do, don't I?"
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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