Friday, June 04, 2010

Our Comiskey conversation with Ken Griffey Jr.

My mental picture of Ken Griffey Jr. isn’t the oft-injured Red or aging Mariner missing pitches he used to crush.

No. Griffey, who retired this week, will always be the 20-year-old kid shouting to Will and me in the Comiskey Park outfield.

Our time in Chicago for the ballpark’s final two games produced an unimaginable stream of baseball adventures, and Griffey starred in one.

You have to understand the scene. It was the time before the final game, and the assembled media was allowed to wander the field, at least the part in foul territory.

That’s not usual. Go to a game and you’ll see a handful reporters and lensmen among the players taking batting practice.

The White Sox, it seems, didn’t deny a single media request. Ours were shaky, but still legit since I was in fact a reporter and Will was in fact a sports editor. It was not the first time – nor the last – that we would have credentials.

But there were people walking around that field with media credentials around their necks snapping photos with disc cameras, which no semi-serious photog, much less a professional, would be caught dead holding.

It was a surreal scene. Ron Karkovice walked around with his toddler daughter, Ozzie Guillen signed autographs with his uniform number shaved into the back of his head. Infamous DJ Steve Dahl of Disco Demolition Night fame held court by a dugout. Our favorite was a television guy wearing a mobster suit, and up close we noticed that the gray in his hair was sprayed on.

So Will and I walked around, taking this all in. Then we spotted Griffey and two others walk out to a spot in the outfield on the first base side, down the line a little.

Griffey was in his second year and already dominating, and this was in that short period when the Mariners also had his father on the roster. We were able to see father and son, playing side by side in the outfield.

So we scurried near the spot where Griffey was standing. One of the people with him was a photographer, but we didn’t know who the other guy was.

We walked right up to the foul line as Will started snapping away.

Then it happened. Our conversation with Junior.

“Hey! Who you work for?”

We looked around. Ken Griffey Jr. was talking to us.

“Who you work for?”

“The Flint Journal,” I sheepishly replied.

“You’re all right.”

Then Junior, bat in hand, looked at Will, .

“Who you work for?”

“The Flint Journal,” Will also replied.
“Not a card company?”

“It’s a newspaper.”

“You’re all right.”

Given Junior’s blessing, Will started snapping away. This drew the attention of the third guy.

“Fellas, this is a private shoot,” he said, holding up his hand like a traffic cop. “A private shoot.”

We looked at each other and smiled. The idea that there could be anything private about that afternoon was comical, much less the hottest player in the game posing in centerfield.

Aside from all the people in the stands, there was an army of legitimate and illegitimate photographers ready to snap photos of anything and everything. And they all had already documented Ozzie’s hair and Karko’s kid.

We kept clicking away.

Later that year, Will came across a baseball card of Griffey distributed only on the West Coast, distributed by a cookie company called Mother’s.

There was Griffey, in his Mariners road uniform and the unmistakable arches of old Comiskey Park in the background. It also explained why Griffey asked if we were shooting for one of the card companies.


Anonymous said...

A glorious Junior moment to be shizzle. Here are two more, one comedic and one awesome:

1.) In 2000, the last time the Reds had a team worth giving a dang about, I headed down to a game to see the Minnesota Twinkies. It was my b-day weekend, and we had a decent crew of folks at the game.

Well, there wasn't much going on, and at some point with the Twinks up, I got up to get a Big Red Smoky (the frank made famous by the awesomely cheesy 70-s style ad with 1-bit graphics on the scoreboard). To my dismay, there was a huge line for the concession stand, but hey, I was hungry ...

They had TVs at the stands, so you didn't miss anything, and sure enough whilst in line, Junior comes up.

I've been to a ton of games, but it always seems that I never really see anything historic. The biggest thing I'd seen live (aside from final games at parks) was Fred McGriff hit his 300th career homer in Atlanta in 1996. It's cool, but still ...

I wanted to see Junior hit one out. At the time, everyone figured he was the guy who would get Hank Aaron's record (remember we were one year away still from Barroid Bonds' bulked-up bonanza). Then I could say I saw good ol' No. 30, hit No. 413, or whatever it would have been at the time.

And I did see it -- from the concession stand line. I couldn't have looked more sheepish if I were wearing wool.

And then the topper, Dante Bichette, the man I loved to hate, came up and went deep. Back to back, and I missed both.

But at least I got my Big Red Smoky. Sullen, I finally trudged back to my seat, which was dead silent. I plopped myself down, looked around for a second and said, "So ... did I miss anything?"

2.) Two years later, the first season of the Reds' new yard, my brother Scott bought me box seat tickets to the game that was on my birthday -- Reds-Skanks. It was as close to a World Series atmosphere as has been seen in Cincy since, well, they actually played in a World Series in 1990.

I was donning my way-sweet Sean Casey (good ol') No. 21 jersey and rooting loudly and lustfully for my beloved Redlegs.

In the fifth inning, the Reds were down 2-1 after Steroid Lad Giambi juiced one out of the park, when The Mighty Casey strode to the plate.

One on, Mike Moossina on the mound, and The Mighty Casey hit one out. Bedlam. 3-2 Reds.

Next was Junior, and with the crowd still buzzing, Junior paid back the 2000 debacle in full by KO'ing the Moose with a dinger. The place went absolutely nuts.

Unfortunately, this being his time with the Reds, Griffey had hurt himself on the swing and missed the next few weeks, but the Reds beat the Skanks 6-2 that day and seeing two of my faves -- Casey and Junior -- go back-to-back ranks as one of my favorite moments at the ol' ball game.

Thanks for the memories, Junior. Enjoy your retirement!


Anonymous said...

Actually, it was 2003. D'OH! (Thanks Retrosheet.)