Junior’s Day: Wet, Wacky, Wonderful
CINCINNATI (AP) _ Wet, wacky, wonderful.
And, in its finest 20 seconds, Ken Griffey Jr.’s homecoming was heartwarming, too.
``You dream of it and you think about it,″ Junior said Monday evening, looking back on his first game with the Cincinnati Reds. ``That’s all you can do until it happens.″
This dream came true on a day like few others in the major leagues, starting when Junior walked into the clubhouse a few minutes after sunrise.
The long-awaited day had finally dawned, gloomy and wet. And Junior was anxious to see what it would bring.
In rapid succession came an overwhelming pregame ovation from the largest regular-season crowd in stadium history, two empty at-bats and one of the most unusual endings to an opener _ a 3-3 tie with the Milwaukee Brewers.
That was Junior’s day: two outs, one tie, one very satisfied feeling.
``It was awesome,″ he said.
It started with Junior killing time by taping the handles of his bats _ an old baseball ritual _ as he sat at his two dressing cubicles, the ones right inside the clubhouse door.
When Junior visited the place as a kid, those same two cubicles were reserved for Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench.
``Perfect,″ said Bench, a clubhouse visitor.
While raindrops fell outside, Junior took batting practice in the indoor cages. When he got back, the camera-shy outfielder glanced uneasily at the growing crowd of reporters.
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan called ``Junior!″ from the other side of the crowded room. Griffey acknowledged him with a smile and a complaint: ``Too many media people.″
Following a team meeting, Griffey put on a black-sleeved team jacket, slid his cap on backwards and headed for the tarp-covered field to warm up.
It was 11:23 a.m. EDT when he and first baseman Dmitri Young played catch in right field. Behind them, a group of fans draped a banner in the second deck that proclaimed, ``WELCOME TO GRIFFEYVILLE.″
In the red seats of the upper deck, a group of youngsters in white shirts with red hand-printed letters formed a grammatically correct line, spelling out ``GRIFFEY JR.″
Ten minutes was enough. Griffey headed back for the clubhouse just before the gray clouds overhead doused the stadium once again.
The latest batch of rain had moved away when Griffey reappeared in full uniform in the dugout at 12:39. He talked briefly to his father, Ken Sr., at the bat rack, then walked to one end of the dugout and back.
At 12:43, it was showtime.
First, the public address announcer introduced manager Jack McKeon, who got a loud ovation from the stadium that was about three-fourths full at that point. Loud cheers also greeted second baseman Pokey Reese and shortstop Barry Larkin.
Finally, the announcer loudly intoned: ``Ken Griffey Jr.″
Wearing long red sleeves and a batting glove on his right hand, Junior jogged from the dugout to the loudest ovation of the day, one that lasted 20 seconds. He shook hands with McKeon and Reese, gave Larkin a pat and took his rightful place.
``It was exciting,″ McKeon said. ``I really thought it was a tremendous introduction on his first day as a Cincinnati Red. I’m sure his mother and dad were quite proud of the way he was received.″
As the ovation went on, Griffey removed his cap and waved it to all sides of the stadium.
``I knew there would be noise, but I didn’t figure it would be that loud, that long,″ Junior said.
He held the cap with both hands behind his back during the national anthem, then craned his neck to watch two flocks of birds released from the field circle overhead.
At 1:06 p.m., he ran out to center field, bouncing a baseball off the spongy turf, and got another standing ovation. When he once again tipped his cap to the fans in center, dozens of flashbulbs went off.
His best moment came four batters later, when he smoothly backtracked and caught Geoff Jenkins’ fly a step from the wall in center.
He got two chances at the plate, but couldn’t get the ball out of the infield off Steve Woodard, a pitcher he homered off twice in four at-bats in 1997.
Griffey popped up in the first inning. In the third, he grounded out to shortstop Mark Loretta, stationed on the first-base side of second as part of a Griffey shift.
``In your first at-bat if you’re not nervous, you’d be in trouble,″ Junior said. ``I swung at a few bad pitches and looked in the dugout and saw my dad going, `Get the ball up.‴
He wouldn’t get a third chance. Rain had slowed the game to a crawl _ several runners were on all fours after slipping down _ and eventually brought the tarp.
During a three-hour wait, Junior took a nap, had a snack and scanned the Brewers’ roster to see which pitcher he might face if the rain broke.
It never did. A few minutes after the game was called, Junior headed for a temporary interview area just outside the clubhouse door. He was asked what he’ll tell his 6-year-old son, Trey, about the day when he got home.
``Nothing,″ Junior said. ``He’ll probably go get gloves and bats and we’ll probably break a window or two in the place where we’re staying.″