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Griffey steps up to plate for kids, charity

by: COURTESY OF ANDREW WALSH - Ken Griffey Jr., former Seattle Mariners star, enjoys other pursuits these days, including golf and family.Want the way to the heart of Ken Griffey Jr.?

Ask the future Hall-of-Famer about his children.

The retired former slugger — “I’m not retired. Just on sabbatical,” he says impishly — is proud of all those home runs hit and awards reaped, but no more so than being the father of three kids.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Griffey, 44, said during an appearance at Nike’s Tiger Woods Center last Saturday as part of the Caddies 4 Cure benefit. “As a dad, you hope for the best. No matter what I’ve done in my career, I get more excited about what they do. I start getting chills and shakes and things like that. None of them has a shoe deal or a (pro) contract. They love it because they love the sport.”

The oldest, Trey, is a 6-3, 190-pound sophomore receiver at Arizona who hardly played through two-thirds of his redshirt freshman season. Then he came on like gangbusters, catching 14 passes for 170 yards in the final four games, including a two-touchdown performance against Boston College in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl.

The middle one, Taryn, is a 5-7 high school senior in their hometown of Orlando, regarded as one of the top basketball talents in the country though she missed her senior season with a knee injury. She will be a freshman at Arizona in the fall.

And how about the youngest, 12-year-old Tevin?

“Don’t rush him,” Griffey says with a laugh. “I’m already losing one out of the house next month. Tevin plays all sports — baseball, football, basketball. A couple of his friends play lacrosse, so he wants to try that. The flavor of the month is scuba diving. He’s getting certified. The first question he asked was, ‘So what about sharks?’

“He’s definitely a Griffey. He’s into taekwondo now. I let my kids play everything and figure out what they want to do.”

Griffey coaches his youngest boy in Pop Warner football.

“Baseball, I let the other guys coach,” Griffey says. “For the most part, at that age, if they’re having fun and smiling going to practice, that’s the most important thing. It’s not that your kid is going to be the next (Derek) Jeter, the next Mike Trout, the next (Andrew) McCutchen. It’s how much interaction you have with them as a kid that pays off later on.

“Everybody on the outside knows me as Ken Griffey Jr., but at home, I’m just Dad. My life may not be normal to somebody else, but it’s normal to me. We try to have everything as normal as possible. My kids can bring friends over. Throw pool parties. All the stuff kids want to do, we do it.”

Griffey retains a special affinity for Seattle, where he spent the first 11 years, and the last two, of a 22-year major-league career that ended in 2010. He said he brings his family to the Emerald City three or four times a year.

“The two older kids were born in Seattle,” Griffey says. “My wife’s from Seattle. They love Seattle. When my daughter is announced in basketball, she’s from Seattle, Wash., not Orlando.”

For the past three years, Griffey has served as a special consultant with the Mariners, working in spring training and during the season with “Double-A players on down.”

“The big league and Triple-A teams don’t need me,” he says. “I get the fun guys. The first day (of spring training), I walk in and they have the deer-in-the-headlights look. The second day, I have a couple of guys ask me things. The third day, it’s like we’re going to have a sit-down discussion about what’s going on.

“I tell kids all the time, ‘Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays all went through the minor leagues. You’re no different than them. Somebody felt you’re good enough to get drafted. Don’t put added pressure on yourself. Just go out and have fun and play and simplify things.’ ”

Griffey’s consulting job “gets me out of the house,” he says. “My day starts at 7 (a.m.). I go play golf. Then I go out to the ballpark.”

Griffey says he participates in between 12 and 15 charity events a year. This is the fourth straight year he has ventured to Portland on his own dime for Caddies 4 Cure, which this year raised more than $300,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel.

Part of the lure, Griffey freely admits, is the chance to hit the links and reconnect with friends and celebrities, names such as Ozzie Smith, Jerome Bettis, Fred McGriff and Sterling Sharpe.

“The only thing we care about is the golf,” Griffey says, grinning. “That’s our thing. It’s, ‘What, we can play golf? We’re there.’ We’d go to the moon if they had a golf course. You get a chance to see people from other sports and have fun. When I have an event, the other guys show up. Everybody reciprocates.”

There’s more to it, of course.

“Everybody knows somebody with cancer or somebody who has been sick,” Griffey says. “To be able to raise awareness and help people out is the most important thing. It’s about raising money to help people. You can never do enough. So many people need our help. Plus, it’s educational. You learn so many things about the disease. If somebody you know has it, you know what to expect.”

Griffey is a shoo-in for first-ballot entry into the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2016. He ranks sixth on the career list with 630 home runs. He led the American League four times, including back-to-back 56-HR seasons in 1997 and ‘98. He was most valuable player in 1997, when he led the league in runs, homers, RBIs (147), slugging percentage and total bases. A 13-time All-Star, he hit better than .300 seven seasons with the Mariners.

“I really don’t think about” the Hall of Fame, he says. “I think about what I have to do today, tomorrow and the next day. When that day comes, I’ll think about it. Right now, I’m having a lot of fun doing the things I never got the chance to do.”

Griffey played in the era when nearly every other slugger — including Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and, more recently, former teammate Alex Rodriguez — was tainted by steroids. Griffey says he stayed clean on the advice of his father, former big league outfielder Ken Griffey Sr.

“My dad was an All-Star, but he wasn’t a superstar,” Griffey Jr. says. “He told me when I was in Little League, ‘There’s always going to be somebody bigger, stronger, faster. Just don’t let them outwork you.’

“That’s what I lived by. I was never the fastest guy on the team. I was never the biggest. I was never the strongest. You don’t stay good for that long without doing anything. You have to work at it.”

Does Griffey resent all those peers who cheated?

“No,” he says. “It was their decision. Nobody knows why they chose to do it. You have to say, ‘OK,’ and move on. We have great young players we can celebrate now.

“Instead of worrying about what happened 15 or 20 years ago, we have to celebrate the Prince Fielders, the Mike Trouts. It’s time to turn the page and celebrate the guys coming up and say, ‘Hey, this is why baseball is going to continue to be strong.’ ”

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