Former Mariners star Ken Griffey Jr., now a special consultant with the team, arrived in Peoria on Tuesday to chat with old friends.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Ken Griffey Jr. arrived at Mariners spring training as he always does, in or out of uniform: Eager to chat about his kids, and a magnet for just about every stray person in camp.
And, yes, wisecracking up a storm. Junior is nothing if not a Hall of Fame needler. When Felix Hernandez emerged in the clubhouse wearing white Capri pants, Griffey was merciless, much to the amusement of everyone else. And Felix, too, for that matter.
“Why’d you steal your Mama’s pants?” Griffey hollered, repeating the line a couple of times for greater comic effect.
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One more year removed from his abrupt departure from the game in June 2010, Griffey has settled comfortably into retired life at age 42. Though, he says, he offered new Florida Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen — an old friend, like so many others in the game — his services for the upcoming year.
“I told him I’d give him 12 at-bats — 13 and we have to renegotiate. And I only want to play home games,” he said. “That’s when they were going after Prince (Fielder), Albert (Pujols). They had signed (Jose) Reyes, they got Mark Buehrle. And right before they signed Heath (Bell). So I called. Ozzie started laughing.”
Speaking of Fielder, I asked Griffey if he tried to recruit his Orlando neighbor to the Mariners during his free agency. Griffey’s answer was enlightening and shed some light on the Mariners’ pursuit of Fielder.
“That’s what everyone thinks because he lives right by me,” Griffey said. “Nah. Prince is his own man. You can’t jeopardize relationships. If he had asked me about it, I would have talked about it. My main thing with him was to maintain the same relationship we always had. I don’t get into anybody’s business financially.
“Jack (Zduriencik) said, ‘Hey, we’re pursuing him.’ I said, ‘OK.’ He said, ‘If he talks to you, you’ll talk to him?’ I said, ‘Yeah, but I’m not going to seek him out. That’s not fair to either one of us.’ “
And, Griffey said, Prince never asked. What I gather from all that is that yes, the Mariners were interested in Fielder, and no, Fielder wasn’t all that interested in them.
Griffey said he was as surprised as everyone else when Fielder signed with Detroit.
“Nothing in this game surprises you any more, but I didn’t think it would be Detroit,” he said. “I thought it would be someplace else.”
Griffey was quick with the quips as he watched the Mariners play an intrasquad game, fresh off a plane flight from Florida he shared with Danica Patrick. A steady stream of well-wishers, including former teammates, team officials and media members, wandered into the Griffey vortex.
He patiently told the story of how his son, Trey, ended up accepting a football scholarship to the University of Arizona. Griffey smirked in mock irritation when it was pointed out how ironic it was that he’ll now be traveling frequently to Tucson when it was a running joke how he never took a Tucson trip with the M’s in spring training.
Trey, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound wide receiver at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, was recruited heavily by Washington State. But he was so enthralled by Arizona that he committed to the Wildcats before making his final trip to Pullman.
“Like I told all the coaches, it was his choice where he wanted to go,” Griffey said. “Not wanting to have him have the remorse of, ‘Hey, I went here because of you, Dad.’ I said, ‘We’ve always traveled; traveling’s not that big a deal. Go where you want to go to school.’ He picked Arizona. I couldn’t be any happier. It should be fun. He picked it without any word from me.”
Griffey is already going through the recruiting blitz again with his daughter, Taryn, a standout sophomore basketball player who has drawn the notice of Washington, he said — along with every top-flight hoops school in the country. Griffey casually drops names like Pat, Geno and Vivian, referring to iconic women’s coaches Pat Summitt of Tennessee, Geno Auriemma of Connecticut and Vivian Stringer of Rutgers. And no wonder — Taryn led Dr. Phillips to a state title and had a game in which she went 9 for 9 on three-pointers.
The youngest Griffey, Tevin, age 9, is still playing baseball (a left-handed thrower and right-handed hitter, a la Rickey Henderson), but Griffey believes his future lies in football like older brother Trey.
But that doesn’t mean the line of Griffeys in the major leagues has halted. Ken raves about the 13-year-old son of brother Craig, who played seven years in the Mariners farm system. Junior says his nephew is a right-handed pitcher who reminds him of Tom “Flash” Gordon.
Griffey is in his second year as a special consultant with the ballclub, and while some fans might scoff at what sounds like a figurehead role, Griffey has a lot to offer, manager Eric Wedge said. Wedge spent considerable time picking Griffey’s brain last season, and did so even more intently during their whirlwind junket to Japan together last month.
“He gives you a different perspective,” Wedge said. “It’s a very interesting perspective. Obviously, he was a great player, and the way he views the game, growing up in the game, it’s a whole different vantage point. That’s the perspective we can gain from him.”
Griffey says we’ll see more of him this year than last. He plans to once again take trips to all the Mariners minor-league affiliates (often driving the bus he’s dubbed “The Mad Mobile”) as well as picking up the major-league team several times through the season.
“I’m mainly coming back here now to get to know the guys,” he said.
Griffey won’t don a uniform in camp, but he expects to offer advice and counsel to players.
“We’ll have a couple of talks,” he said.
Of the 2012 Mariners, Griffey said, “I think we’re going to surprise some people. We have some good kids. The first question I asked is, how’d they come in? Everyone was real surprised how good shape guys came in.”
I asked if he still had the urge to pick up a bat.
“Nah. I pick up a golf club,” he replied. “Every now and then I go hit, because I have kids that want me to help.”
With Ken Griffey Jr. these days, it’s all about the kids — his own, and the Mariners’.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @StoneLarry