Monday, April 08, 2002

Griffey's homecoming
more like horror story




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        The sinking feeling now is that the whole Junior Griffey homecoming just isn't going to work out. The notion occurred first in 2000, his first season here, when Griffey seemed more miserable than pleased about his return, and it continued last year, when he blew out a hamstring in spring training.

        You've heard the Thomas Wolfe line, the one about going home, and maybe it's true. Maybe it's not going to work here, at least not the way everyone thought it would. If something sounds too good to be true ...

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Ken Griffey Jr.'s day started on a high note: his first homer.
(Tony Tribble/AP)
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        “Oh, boy,” Joe Nuxhall sighed on the radio. That followed The Ol' Left-hander's description of Griffey lying on the basepath between third base and home. It was all you needed to hear.

        He'd been caught in a seventh inning rundown and planted his right leg awkwardly retreating to third. Or so it seemed. It was hard to tell. Griffey turned, planted and went down.

Freak injury, fragile team
        It was a freak injury, the kind lesser teams seem to suffer a lot. A partial tear of the patella tendon of the knee, they're calling it. A partial dislocation of the right kneecap, too. Also, a full-blown beheading of the Reds 2002 season, six games into it.

        If the local baseball year were going to be long with Junior Griffey, what might it be without him?

        It's not even summer. Not even June, when even if the Reds started losing, you could still go to the yard and watch Griffey. You watch great players no matter what. Will he go deep tonight? Will he climb the wall? Will he sign an autograph or flip a ball into the first row?

        Griffey is among a handful of players whose appearance sells tickets. Let's go see Junior tonight.

        The thing is, Griffey had prepared himself for a great year. He spent three hours a day in the offseason hitting in the cage. He was diligent strengthening the hamstring. Griffey had some image-mending to do.

        He was no longer considered among the best players in the game. Sports Illustrated in its baseball preview rated Griffey the 14th best outfielder in baseball, behind the likes of Lance Berkman. Ex-teammates questioned his leadership. Maybe that stoked Griffey, maybe not. It couldn't have hurt.

Surgery possible

        ; On Sunday, Griffey hit his first homer of the year, a line drive that screamed. “I smoked that home run,” Griffey later told his agent, Brian Goldberg. “I hit it on the screws.”

        Sitting in the hospital waiting on his MRI, Griffey's first words to Reds physician Dr. Tim Kremchek were, “Did we win?”

        Maybe he'll be back after six weeks of rehab. That is the hope. If not, Kremchek will operate and Griffey will see you next March. Regardless, a good chunk of whatever hope you felt for this poverty-stricken baseball team landed in a heap Sunday. While the tease of Great American Ballpark rises just out of your reach, you're stuck in Lethargy Field for six months, watching a club that might be without its best player.

        If you believe in fate and in the Reds, Sunday was a bad day all around. More and more, the glorious return of Junior Griffey is looking like a dream denied.

        E-mail: pdaugherty@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/daugherty.

       



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