COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Ken Griffey Sr. never had the swing his son had. That couldn’t be taught. It came naturally. He also played in a different era that kept him away from home, limiting his opportunities to even see his games or pass along his wisdom.
However, as his son Ken Griffey. Jr. emphasized in his Hall of Fame induction speech Sunday, his father imparted one of life’s most valuable lessons – a father’s love.
“Words can’t describe how much I love you and would do anything for you,” said Junior, looking down from the podium while addressing his three children, Trey, Taryn and Tevin.
It was the most emotional segment of Junior’s 21-minute speech, as he stopped three times to hold back his emotions. A generation later, what his three kids mean to Junior is what Junior and Craig meant to Ken Sr. and his mother Birdie growing up.
“He’s always been close to his kids,” Senior said. “And I tried to be close to mine. I was there for him whenever they needed.”
He was there, just not as often as he wanted. The problem was that Senior was on the road often and for long spells, even playing in another city away from the family. Junior was born when Senior was a senior – in high school. The family had to follow him through his baseball journey through the minors to the big leagues.
“I made the decision to play ball and provide for my family. It was a totally different time,” Senior said. “The kind of money they are making … if Trey had a game and Junior was somewhere else, he could lease an airplane and fly home. I couldn’t even get a cab. It’s totally different.”
Junior has even gone to the extent of purchasing a house in Tucson so he can stay to watch Trey play wide receiver for University of Arizona. Trey, who has already graduated and his working on his masters, still has one more year of eligibility. Also, Taryn is a sophomore on UA’s basketball team. Both children live in the house.
Given a choice, Junior would no doubt take his role as a father of three over any of his baseball honors. They are more important to him. As he told Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone is a story last week, “my dad skills, I think, are a lot better than my baseball skills.”
Kenny, in paying tribute to his dad in his speech, acknowledged his father’s sacrifices.
“To my dad, who taught me how to play this game, but more importantly how to be a man, how to work hard, how look self in mirror each and every day,” he said. “And not worry about what other people are doing.
“He made the decision to play baseball and provide for his family – cause that’s what men do. And I love you for that.”
Like a baton passed from father to son, Kenny can take it from here. And he has as both father and son have moved on to different stages in their lives. Junior is immersed in his children’s lives while Senior has moved from his home in Florida near his son back to his native Pennsylvania. He has purchased a RV and is planning long trips across the U.S., as far away as Alaska.
“He’s been running around town like all my other friends and family. He’s been ripping and running. So the first time I saw him was when I got on stage,” Junior said.
“He’s got nine grandkids. That’s all he cares about,” he added. “I’m the low man on the totem pole.”
The two are not quite in the same outfield anymore but as Junior admits, “we have a special bond.” They do, as they have done virtually their entire lives, always say “I love you” to end their phone conversations.
“It is strange to hear that from anybody, especially from him because he kind of doesn’t let that out,” Senior said. “He’s always been a good kid.”
“I’m just here to support him. I’m being a a dad, just to grin and smile.”