Friday, February 25, 2005

Forgetting And Believing

Rewind back to the end of the 1999 season, and pretend you’re Ken Griffey Jr. You’ve just concluded your tenth major league campaign with the Seattle Mariners, and have experienced everything from phenom hype, successful stardom in the spotlight and overwhelming popularity. You’ve hit almost 400 home runs by age 29, are widely considered to be one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball, and have finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting nine times. You were awarded the MVP in 1997 while racking up 56 home runs, along with a hefty 147 RBI’s, an All-Star game MVP and a gold glove every year you’ve been in the major leagues. Besides a nagging wrist injury that did anything but halter his progress, Griffey Jr. hasn’t felt a stroke of injury in his famed career.

Eventually, he reached a contract year and bolted for his hometown of Cincinnati, the city under which his father shined. The pressure was on the young stud, so he took the money and ran. Since leaving Seattle for Cincinnati in 2000, Griffey Jr. has played 100 games only twice in five seasons, including campaigns of 70, 53 and 83. Injuries seem to be more frequent, they never seem to let up. He doesn’t understand why it keeps happening to him. All he wishes for is health, and the given ability to help his Reds win some ballgames.

A poll was released during a Reds game during the 2002 season, asking whether Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn, Griffey or Juan Encarnacion should be removed from the starting lineup permanently. Griffey was constantly hurt, whether it be a tendinitis in his knee, a torn hamstring or a nagging knee injury. Even with that, Griffey didn’t appreciate the fans sudden backlash.

"What I found so frustrating here is that it was a shot when I couldn't defend myself,“ Griffey said in an interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons, “If I come back and stink, fine, then go ahead and take the shot. But it's not like I want to be hurt, or I'm not trying to rehab and get back faster than they thought; I'm in there in the morning and work all day.”

Then the reputation was beginning to be swirled around Cincinnati. Was this guy just a virus in a losing clubhouse, only caring about his still-valid paycheck and not about the teams yearly struggles? Was he taking his good old time with the rehab process, more interested in his long-term physical strain than the immediate on-field capabilities he brings to the ballpark every day? Griffey insists these rumors are false, making him more and more irritated every waking hour.

"Instead of being excited about the Reds winning and being in first place, someone decided to take that and turn it into a negative,” Griffey states, “and that's what upset me. Why be negative? I came home here because I thought it would be great for the city and the fans and the Reds. Now I constantly hear about the nine years and $116.5 million.”

Don’t forget about his passion to win…

“No one understands how much I want the Reds to win. I offered to defer more salary if it would help keep players like Pokey (Reese) and Dmitri (Young). People say I don't smile enough. Well, I haven't exactly been on winning teams the last three years. Winning is what it should all be about, not me.”

Now Griffey is healthy. Surrounded by a promising core of young talent and a pitching staff improving by the hour, the Reds could surprise some teams this season. Griffey wants to capture the essence of winning, like his days in Seattle, sharing a winning attitude with his younger teammates. He wants to recapture his stardom, reputation and ability to perform, like how it used to be. Sure, Ken Griffey can keep looking back, but he realizes this is a perfect time to look forward.


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