Reds Give Griffey Warm Welcome
Feb. 21, 2000
SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) _ Ken Griffey Jr. could have done without the superstar treatment _ the dugout news conference, the golf cart ride, the photo shoot on a balcony.
His new team couldn't give him enough of it.
The Cincinnati Reds formally welcomed Griffey to spring training on Monday, a day after he slipped unannounced into the clubhouse to unpack his belongings and report to his new team.
That was more to his liking than the front-and-center treatment he got Monday. About 150 reporters and photographers were on hand, following his every move.
Griffey was nervous, felt out of place and wished he could have been treated like just one of the guys.
``I just figured I'd sneak into the locker room without being noticed and go onto the field and that's it,'' Griffey said wistfully. ``I didn't have any idea there would be this many people and cameras here.''
Instead of the Ordinary Joe treatment, he got the Michael Jordan treatment. He sat atop the first base dugout _ the very spot where Jordan was seated six years earlier for his introduction to minor league baseball _ and pumped his right leg nervously during a half-hour news conference.
``Nervous? Not at all. My legs aren't shaking,'' he said tongue-in-cheek, prompting everyone to look at his twitching leg.
Later, he put on a complete Reds home uniform for the first time and posed for promotional photos, holding a bat on an outside balcony.
While Griffey squirmed, the Reds relearned what it's like to have baseball's spotlight all to themselves for something other than Pete Rose's gambling or Marge Schott's comments.
``Obviously the fans of Cincinnati have fallen in love with the idea of bringing Junior back home,'' general manager Jim Bowden said. ``It's tremendous for baseball, and baseball is finally back in Cincinnati.''
Bowden pulled off one of the biggest trades in the history of baseball's first professional franchise by getting Griffey from Seattle in a 4-for-1 swap on Feb. 10. Griffey had told the Mariners he would accept a trade only to his hometown team, and accepted $116.5 million over nine years _ roughly half his market value _ to join the small-market Reds, who get to defer $57.5 million of what they owe him.
``I don't think it's a triumph (for small-market clubs),'' Bowden said. ``Ken Griffey Jr.'s contract is the highest contract ever given to a player in the history of the sport, so he's being paid a lot of money.
``It's very unique, though, to be able to bring the Michael Jordan of baseball home to where he was raised. I think he'll not only pay for himself, I think we'll probably make more than that over the term of the contract.''
Griffey couldn't avoid the Jordan comparisons, even though all he wanted to do was blend in and learn the names of his new teammates.
``I don't consider myself any different than anybody else on our team,'' he said. ``I just want to go out there and play and hope this ballclub will win a championship. I'm just one of 25 guys.''
Technically, he's one of 69 players in camp. On Monday, he was the only one that seemed to matter. Even his new teammates got caught up in the moment.
Griffey walked through a semicircle of photographers as he left his car and headed for the clubhouse Monday morning. Once inside, heads turned as he walked toward his two dressing cubicles _ he's got so much stuff that he needs more than one.
Minor league pitchers sat in a row with their legs crossed, watching the newcomer's every move with wide eyes. Outfielder Dmitri Young walked over, gave Griffey a hug, then retreated to his dressing cubicle and watched with a huge grin as dozens of reporters roamed around.
It reminded the former Cardinal of the day that Mark McGwire reported to the St. Louis clubhouse for the first time.
``Wow,'' Young said. ``This is a great day. There's a media circus, the fans are in a frenzy, it's going to be great for the Cincinnati Reds. There's a lot of adrenalin flowing.''
Outside, about 200 fans _ a much larger crowd than the day before _ watched pitchers and catchers work out on and hoped for a glimpse of the newcomer. A few wore Griffey Seattle or Cincinnati replica jerseys.
He didn't have time to mingle. After the interview and photo sessions, he had to head off to find a place to stay for spring training. He was due back for a physical exam Tuesday and the first full-squad workout a day later.
Griffey was looking forward to that.
``Yeah, I'm nervous,'' he admitted. ``I just want to go out and play. There were some things written and said about me that were not true, and I just want to make people forget about it by going out there and playing.''
Griffey took exception to suggestions that he forced Seattle to trade him. He also bristled over the talk about money.
``I think the one thing that bothered me the most was that everybody said, `When an athlete says it's not for the money, it's for the money.' I've always said from Day One that it's not about money,'' he said. ``And I guess in a way I proved it, but it wasn't intentional.''
By agreeing to take millions of dollars less to play for his hometown team, Griffey became a sensation in Cincinnati. The Reds' offices were overwhelmed by calls about tickets, and fans flew banners over the city welcoming him home.
He has heard about the commotion secondhand.
``As far as all the excitement of Cincinnati, I still have family there,'' he said. ``They were calling me and telling me they had people flying planes and helicopters (pulling banners). It was like, `Here we go again.' But I'm happy. I grew up there.''