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Great Story about Griffey in the Enquirer


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The story is well written by John Fay..

One moment, Ken Griffey Jr. is talking about reaching 500 career home runs, a cherished baseball milestone.

All of a sudden, he changes the subject, and now the Reds center fielder is talking about his daughter Taryn and her basketball ability. Then he's talking about Trey, his son, and Taryn's homework habits.

After a while, Griffey returns to the home run conversation. The difference is striking.

When he's talking about his kids, Griffey's funny, animated, engaging.

When he's talking about himself, he's serious, dull and disinterested.

"I don't like to talk about myself," Griffey said.

That has left pop psychologists and sportswriters to ponder what makes him tick. This much is known: He is no longer the smiling, backward-hat-wearing guy who was the most popular baseball player on the planet in 1990s.

So what is he? Some paint him as a sullen superstar who doesn't appreciate his fans. Until his resurgence this season, Griffey was largely eaten alive on sports talk radio.

But ask members of Griffey's inner circle - a select crowd to be sure - and a more complex picture develops.

"He's more secure in who he is. I don't think he takes the game less seriously. But back then, baseball more defined who he was as a person," said Griffey's agent, Brian Goldberg, who also represented Griffey's father, Ken Griffey Sr.

"He's more defined by being a good son, a good husband and a good parent - and oh, by the way, (he's) also a very good baseball player."

The Kid, was

In a way, it should be no surprise that the Griffey of 2004 is so different from the slugger who arrived in Seattle in 1989

How could he not be? The Kid, as he was once known, has three kids of his own - 10-year-old Trey, 8-year-old Taryn and 2-year-old Tevin.

At 34, Griffey has matured a great deal since his early days as a star. But he still has that edge to him. And that edge has been magnified in recent years, when injuries kept Griffey from the field, where his spectacular plays speak volumes.

Some criticism, when it comes to missing a cutoff man or misplaying a ball, doesn't bother Griffey. A bad play is a bad play.

What drives him crazy is when people make assumptions based on less than the full facts.

"I think a lot of people make judgments on Junior based on partial information," Goldberg said.

Exhibit A this season occurred in May, when Griffey and WLW (700-AM) Sports Talk host Andy Furman argued after Furman criticized Griffey for referring to some loud, abusive fans as "clowns" in a USA Today story.

In the same profile, Griffey said he never regretted leaving Seattle, believed a majority of fans were rooting for him, and that he was hoping for a big comeback.

But the damage was done. Griffey's argument with Furman became the story.

And it's often the reaction, justified or not, that hurts Griffey. The outfielder is not shy to match aggressive fans profanity for profanity. What do the TV cameras pick up? Junior yelling into the stands.

Wants normal life

Griffey also hurts himself in other ways. He rarely signs autographs. He doesn't sprint to center field and wave to the fans like Sammy Sosa. And he's got all the trappings of a superstar life - a huge home in a gated community in Orlando, Fla., a fleet of cars that include a $250,000 Aston Martin, and a 120-foot yacht.

He obviously likes the good life. But the celebrity that goes with it is something he'd rather not deal with.

"He wants a normal life," his father, Ken Sr., said. "He wants to be able to go out and have dinner. Because of his talent, he's never been able to do that."

In short, he isn't concerned with cultivating an image, and it's taken a toll. The media and fans often lump Griffey and San Francisco star Barry Bonds together as talented, temperamental players who are hard to love.

But Bonds has the steroid issue hanging over him. Sosa used a corked bat. There is no taint on any of Griffey's home runs.

Griffey says all you need to know about his image is this: He plays hard on the field and he's never been in any trouble off it.

And those who know Griffey best - friends, family, teammates, Reds support personnel - say Griffey is a genuinely nice guy, a good teammate, and a fine family man.

A loyal friend

No one knows Griffey better than Frank King, who says the outfielder is "very approachable - if you do it in the right way."

The two have been friends since they were 12, and King lived in Seattle when Griffey was a Mariner. Now King lives in Orlando, where he helps his friend create time for family.

"During the season, he likes to stay focused on baseball," King said. "I do things like take care of his cars, take care of personal things. Even in the offseason, I'll do some of that. He likes to spend as much time as possible with his kids.

"It's tough when you're gone 162 days out of 365."

And King takes some issue with the notion that Griffey is no longer "The Kid."

"His circle of friends is real small," King said. "He doesn't like to go out a lot. We stay in and play video games, work on dirt bikes, race remote cars with his wife and kids.

"We're like kids ourself."

Goldberg said the Griffey-King friendship works both ways, much to Griffey's benefit.

"Certain players have gotten into trouble because of something someone around them does," Goldberg said. "That would never happen to Junior. The only people around him are Frank and his family."

And the rap on Griffey as largely aloof and unapproachable - Cincinnati's own version of Bonds - rings hollow in the Reds clubhouse.

Injured players can expect an empathetic query from Griffey, or supportive note taped to their lockers.

"He's misunderstood," said Reds catcher Jason LaRue. "He's really a good person, a giving person. He's someone who has everything, but he'll give you anything.

"People don't understand him. I think a lot of people are just jealous of him."

Griffey, despite his $12.5 million salary and status in the game, asks for no special treatment.

"He's awesome with us," said Reds equipment manager Rick Stowe. "Junior buys his own bats. He has his own Nike representative. He doesn't ask us for much."

When he does ask a clubhouse worker to do something, the tip is ridiculously large, said clubhouse worker Dave Meiners.

Stowe is on the board of the Reds Community Fund, and he sees a side of Griffey that few know about.

"He's one of the best guys we have when it comes to Make-A-Wish kids," Stowe said. "He'll spend time with them, give them hats, batting gloves, whatever. He gives a lot of money anonymously. Last week, he gave a $25,000 donation. I can't tell you to who or it wouldn't be anonymous."

All-Centrury performer

Baseball stardom came quickly and easily to Griffey - he was elected to the All-Star team as a 20 year old, and he made the All-Century Team at 29 - that when things started to go badly for him in 2001, the barbs began.

He didn't train hard enough in the offseason, some analysts and fans said. He didn't work hard enough on his rehab, the complained.

"People acted like he tried to get hurt," Ken Sr. said. "Nobody tries to get hurt. This is a kid who would do anything he could to keep the ball in the ballpark. He'd run into walls. He'd jump up on fences. People don't realize how hard playing center field is."

The string of injuries - five serious ones, all unrelated - caused Griffey to miss 234 of a possible 486 games from 2001-2003.

He went from one of the most popular players in baseball - Griffey was an 11-time American League All-Star - to just another guy. If not for the injuries, he'd probably have 600 home runs by now.

But Griffey does not look at what might have been and, at least for the moment, there's plenty to look forward to.

He has 18 home runs and 49 RBI and is on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the first time since 2000.

The media attention has intensified with his chase for 500 home runs, but one gets the idea that Griffey's prouder of Taryn's soccer goals or Trey's touchdowns than his 500 homers.

"Home runs are numbers," he said. "In 1998, (Mark McGwire) hit 70, Sammy (Sosa) hit 66. I hit 56. We were all home watching the playoffs. The Yankees won it that year. I don't think they had as a guy hit 30."

The player who already has more All-Star votes than he got last year can take the attention or leave it. He's certainly not that interested in talking about it.

But if you want to hear about Taryn's one gymnastics meet, pull up, the story takes a while.

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