Friday, March 28, 2003

Griffey is ready to roll

Slugger ignored detractors and rediscovered his game

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

SARASOTA, Fla. - Ask Ken Griffey Jr. if he's ready for spring training to be over and you get the answer you deserve.

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Ken Griffey Jr. has six homers and a .386 BA this spring.
(AP photo/Al Behrman)
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"Yeah, I'm going to miss getting up at 6:50 every morning," he said. "I love spring training."

He was being sarcastic, of course. Six weeks in, nobody likes spring training.

But Griffey has enjoyed his best spring in his three years as a Red. He has been healthy. He has been hitting. And he has been happy - for all but a few days at the beginning of camp.

"I feel good," he said. "I'm ready to go out and play."

That will start Monday, when the Reds open Great American Ball Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Reds concluded the Florida portion of spring training Thursday with a 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh.

Griffey went 1-for-2 with an RBI double. So he comes from Florida on a five-game hitting streak (5-for-12, .417) and has hit safely in 14 of 18 games.

Griffey doubles against the Pirates Thursday.
(AP photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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It has been a quiet spring for Griffey since the first week, with its talk of the near trade with San Diego for Phil Nevin and Griffey's offseason training program - two subjects the slugger enjoys about as much as oral surgery.

The trade/training talk was followed by the flap after Reds general manager Jim Bowden said the Griffey trade had been a flop so far.

Since then, Griffey's made news with his performance. He hit three home runs March 7 against Pittsburgh. He hasn't played much lately, but he's had a terrific spring: .386 average, six home runs, 18 RBI.

"He's been locked in from Day 1," Reds manager Bob Boone said.

There was speculation that Griffey's relationship with Boone would be strained because Boone lobbied Nevin to accept the trade.

That has not been the case. They have what appears to be a normal player-manager relationship.

Griffey and Bowden, however, have spoken only once since the flop quote. Bowden did most of the talking then but wouldn't comment on what was said.

Griffey doesn't see the fact they haven't spoken much as a big deal.

"What is talking to him going to do? Help my performance?" Griffey said.

And Griffey, 33, knows that is how he'll be measured.

Griffey is confident he'll regain his lofty status but will never say, "I'm going to go out and hit 50 home runs, drive in 120 and show everyone I'm the same player I was."

Griffey is coming off two injury-plagued years. He has played 181 games and missed 143 in those two seasons. And, when he played, he wasn't himself. He totaled 30 home runs and 88 RBI in 2001 and 2002. For Griffey, those numbers would be bad for one year.

Griffey's career numbers remain Hall of Fame-caliber: .295 average, 468 home runs and 1,358 RBI.

"Numbers are for other people to worry about," Griffey said. "The only numbers I worry about are wins and losses. Those are the most important numbers."

For the Reds to do well in the win-loss column, Griffey must be Griffey.

He has been exactly that this spring. His injuries - the left hamstring, which put him on the disabled list in 2001; the right knee, which put him on the disabled list in early 2002; and the right hamstring, which put him on the DL later in 2002 - are healed.

"When he's healthy, we all know what he is," Boone said.

With the legs sound, he has been Junior this spring.

"It's a perfect example," Boone said. "Without your legs, it's virtually impossible to play up to your potential. When he has legs, he plays like the All-Century player he is."

Meanwhile, Griffey spent more time the last week working in the batting cage than on the field.

"I'm getting the last little kinks out," he said. "In the cage, you can work on things. When something feels good, you can repeat it. You don't worry about the other eight guys out there."


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