CHICAGO – He was running around the field like a happy kid, hugging former teammates and clowning with new ones – Ken Griffey Jr. just being himself.
“He looks good in black,” Seattle Mariners general manager Lee Pelekoudas said. “But he’d look good in blue or red, too.”
At 38, Junior is now a part-time player with the Chicago White Sox, a veteran acquired to help the team drive for a playoff spot down the stretch. From Cincinnati, he has jumped into a pennant race, which has produced something he has missed.
“It’s fun being in the hunt,” Griffey said. “I’d like to win a championship, fulfill that the dream.”
Everyone who came within reach seemed to get a hug Monday – Pelekoudas, Raul Ibañez, Norm Charlton, trainer Rick Griffin, even a few writers. He took the time to catch up, and the opportunity to laugh.
“My little man, (son) Trey, is now 6-foot tall and 155 pounds,” Griffey said. “He’s into football, plays safety and running back. He plays a little baseball, too.”
“He swings just like me,” he said.
In the 2-plus weeks he’s been in Chicago, he’s played center field for the first time in two years, and been the designated hitter. His next home run will be the 609th of his career, which would tie Sammy Sosa for fifth-place all-time.
Since joining the White Sox, Junior has nine hits – all singles – in 40 at-bats. He batted seventh for the first time since 1989. With the Reds, he batted .245 with 15 home runs and 53 RBI in 102 games.
Without question, he is nearer the end of his career than the beginning, but Junior can’t yet visualize life without baseball.
“I still love playing the game,” he said.
Does finishing his career in Seattle, where it began, still appeal to him? Griffey waited a long moment before answering.
“I’ll deal with that when the time comes,” he said. “Right now, my goal is to help the White Sox win.”
Asked about playing the Mariners in a three-game series, he admitted the Seattle uniform conjured up memories.
“The best? Probably getting to play with my dad,” Junior said. “And 1995. I had a lot of great teammates who are still friends.”
Ken Griffey Sr. will visit his son today, and will put on the role of coach.
“He’s the best coach I’ve ever had, and the roughest,” Griffey said. “He knows my swing, my game, my body. We’ve got some work to do.”
Someone asked if he followed the Mariners’ travails this season, reading about them online.
“I don’t have to,” he said. “I have friends who live out there and they let me know what’s going on.”