Griffey Jr. tracks 600

Home runs never defined Ken Griffey Jr.

Ken Griffey Jr.  opens the season Monday only seven homers shy of 600.

Ken Griffey Jr. opens the season Monday only seven homers shy of 600.

CINCINNATI — Home runs never defined Ken Griffey Jr.

The backward cap. The can-you-believe-it smile. The Gold Glove that turned flyballs into mesmerizing outs. The arm that made runners think twice. He’s always been much more than that short, sweet swing.

Now that he’s on the verge of a very powerful number, nothing has changed.

The Cincinnati Reds outfielder opens the season Monday only seven homers shy of 600. The countdown started late last season, and will occupy fans for the first few weeks of the new one.

Griffey? He’s got other things in mind.

The 38-year-old all-star has never doted on personal statistics. In his mind, numbers don’t define what he does or why he does it. That part isn’t changing.

Griffey is still living in the moment.

“It’s just a number that’s coming up,” he said. “But that’s not the biggest number.

“The biggest number is the next one (No. 594) and then the next one after that. You can’t look at something that’s dangling out there when you have something in front of you that you have to get first. You get that one, then worry about the next one.

“It’s like a pitcher. You can’t worry about the guy on deck when you’ve still got a guy (at the plate) who’s a hitter.”

When he arrived from Seattle before the 1990 season, Griffey was ahead of Hank Aaron’s home run pace. Barely 30 at the time, he was already an All-Century outfielder and one of the game’s most popular players.

A whole generation of young fans turned their caps backward and tried to be like Junior. His hometown was already daydreaming about glory years.

There hasn’t been a whole lot of that.

During his second season in Cincinnati, Griffey tore his left hamstring. For the next few years, he was defined more by injuries — torn patella tendon, torn hamstring, dislocated shoulder, torn ankle, another torn hamstring, dislocated toe — than statistics.

He slipped further and further behind Aaron’s pace. By 2006, he had practically slipped out of the conversation about the game’s elite players.

No more.

Griffey batted .277 with 30 homers and 93 RBIs last season, when he made the all-star team for the first time in three years. He played in 144 games, his highest total since the year he arrived in Cincinnati.

When it was over, Griffey was only seven swings away from joining Barry Bonds, Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Sammy Sosa with 600 career homers. It’s a short list indeed.

“With certain things if you play long enough, good things will happen,” Griffey said. “I think that’s the beauty of anything, if you do it long enough.

“Obviously you’ve done some good things to be able to do it for a long time.”

As he approaches the mark, it’s the other things that stand out.

“People change over time,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “Basically, he’s still the same Junior I remember when he signed. He’s not jaded. He still enjoys the game. He still has a good time.

“A lot of times as we get older, you lose that fun and innocence of youth. But Junior is still the same Junior I knew a long time ago.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

A candlelight vigil will be held in Red Deer on Thursday to honour the 350-plus people killed in the Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka. Contributed photo
Candlelight vigil planned for deaths linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak

A candlelight vigil is being planned for those who died due to… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Jaxsen Wiebe battles Calgary Hitmen forward Cael Zimmerman for a loose puck when the two teams squared off in February last season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Calgary Hitmen shutout Red Deer Rebels

Rebels name centre Jayden Grubbe team captain ahead of Friday’s game

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

A trial countdown sign marks the days at George Floyd Square, March 4, 2021, in Minneapolis. Ten months after police officers brushed off George Floyd's moans for help on the street outside a south Minneapolis grocery, the square remains a makeshift memorial for Floyd who died at the hand of police making an arrest. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will begin with jury selection on March 8. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Officer’s trial could reopen intersection where Floyd died

MINNEAPOLIS — During a group’s recent meeting at the now-vacant Speedway gas… Continue reading

FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2020 file photo Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell calls for an end to violence in the city during a news conference a day after a demonstrator was shot and killed in downtown Portland. Amid protests following the police killing of George Floyd last year Portland dissolved a special police unit designed to focus on gun violence. Critics say the squad unfairly targeted Black people, but gun violence and homicides have since spiked in Oregon's largest city, and some say disbanding the 35-officer unit was a mistake. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP, File)
As violence surges, some question Portland axing police unit

PORTLAND, Ore. — Elmer Yarborough got a terrifying call from his sister:… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Just don’t call it cod liver oil

Many people swear that a daily dose of various vitamins is an… Continue reading

Email editor@auburn-reporter.com
Letter: Preserving green spaces in Red Deer

The Advocate published an article Feb. 11 about Sunnybrook residents concerned about… Continue reading

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Most Read