For Ken Griffey Sr., this weekend is all about having fun and enjoying his son’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame — a player’s highest career honor. “I’m just a dad. I’m here to support him and smile and grin.”
More than facial features, where there is a slight resemblance in the eyes and jaw, it’s the voice inflections and mannerisms that are similar for the son and father — the tilt of the head when he listens to a question, the pauses and subtle barbs of humor in the answers along with a wide smile to let you know he’s having some fun.
For Ken Griffey Sr., this weekend is all about having fun and enjoying his son’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame — a player’s highest career honor.
“I’m just a dad,” he told reporters Friday in Cooperstown, N.Y. “I’m here to support him and smile and grin. Hopefully, I don’t break down.”
WHERE TO WATCH
Induction ceremony, 10:30 a.m. Sunday, MLB Network. Webcast at www.baseballhall.org
But he admitted that likely will happen when Junior begins his speech. It’s a speech that has no father influence.
“I haven’t given him any tips, because most of the time he’s talking off the cuff anyway,” he said. “You aren’t sure what’s going to come out of his mouth, and most of you know that.”
Indeed, Junior can be unpredictable.
“He hasn’t told me anything,” he said. “He’ll have something really off the cuff about the family. He’ll have plenty to say about me. Once he gets to joking about his dad he doesn’t stop.”
Junior knew better than to turn to his father for advice.
“He didn’t ask any for advice, and I wasn’t going to give him any,” Griffey Sr. said. “I haven’t been in that situation. The only thing I can tell him is that I’ve got three World Series rings, and he doesn’t have any. But I told him he has the big ring now.”
For Griffey Sr., this is yet another prestigious accomplishment for his son that gives him great pride.
Does it seem that long ago when he and Junior would play catch and work out at whatever stadium Griffey Sr. was playing in that day?
“I think about it every day,” Griffey Sr. said.
Junior’s signature backward cap came from those sessions.
“We used to play catch all the time, and he always wanted to wear my hat, but it would always fall down over his face,” Griffey Sr. recalled. “And one time he almost got hit because of it. So his best option was to turn it around backwards so he could see. He started doing that as a kid when he was 5-6-7. He’s been doing it for a long time.”
From those catch sessions to the Hall of Fame.
“It’s been an amazing trip,” Griffey Sr. said. “Watching him grow and watching him get better every year. I really didn’t find out how good he was until I ended up playing left field in Seattle and found out how much ground he could cover, what kind of player he was on offense and all the home runs. I played with the Yankees from ’82 to ’86, and I had Don Baylor, Don Mattingly, (Dave) Winfield hitting behind me, and when I went to Seattle and I had my 20-year-old kid hitting behind me, I never saw so many fastballs in my life. That tells you how good he was.”
One of those many fastballs came Sept. 14, 1990, in the first inning against the then-California Angels.
With leadoff man Harold Reynolds on first base, veteran right-hander Kirk McCaskill left an 0-2 fastball over the middle of the plate, and the 40-year-old Griffey Sr. hammered it over the wall in center field for a homer.
Junior, batting third, greeted his father at home plate with a high five, some words and a huge smile. And then the kid tried to match the old man, in the process providing one of baseball’s unforgettable moments. McCaskill fell behind 3-0 to Junior and then threw a sinker away.
In a sign of his hitting maturity, Junior stayed on the pitch, driving it over the wall in left field for his 20th homer of the season. The duo already had made history earlier in the season by being the first father and son to start a game for the same team. Now they had hit back-to-back homers.
“That’s a tough one,” Griffey Sr. said. “All the pressure was on him. I hit mine. I know mine went further. But at the same time, he still had all the pressure on him to hit it. At 3-0, I didn’t think he was going to get a shot, (but) he hit a low-and-away fastball — a sinker — and he hit it out to left field. A 20-year-old kid that had that much pop to (the opposite) field? He could do almost anything he wanted to at the plate.”
One thing Junior couldn’t do was hit with the same swing as his father’s.
“He always tried to emulate my style as a kid, and I told him he was going to get his own style,” Griffey Sr. said. “He did, and it worked for him. He started to skyrocket. He started to come into his own. He started to be his own man in what he wanted to do at home plate, and then he figured it out.”
That style carried him to Cooperstown.
But to Ken Griffey Sr., it’s simple fatherly pride when he speaks of his Hall of Fame son: “He’s always been a good kid.”