Emulating the great Ken Griffey Jr.

We’re in Seattle, facing the Mariners, and it always takes me back to 1999, my second year in the bigs with the Twins when I finally got to play against a man I admired so much – the great Ken Griffey Jr.

My first at-bat that day at the old Kingdome, I struck out to end the inning. As I was running out on the field, he was running off. He kind of came toward me and said, “Hey, man, keep working hard and have fun with it. Enjoy the game.” That really stuck with me. He was giving me a message. I was impressed that he did that. It really meant a lot to me. And still does.

That’s what Ken Griffey Jr. brought to the game, that ability to have a good time while putting on a show with his incredible talent. He had his cap on backwards and was always laughing, enjoying himself. Kirby Puckett was like that, too, and that’s what I wanted to be like.

I took on that same kind of personality, showing my emotions and expressing how much I enjoy what I’m doing. I’ve carried it with me through my career. It’s a game we’re playing, and I think people want to see us enjoying ourselves. Ken Griffey Jr. showed how to do it. He was always a bright light out there.

I patterned my game and my personality after those two guys, Junior and Kirby. It was one of the smartest things I ever did.

Griffey always had the most beautiful swing in all of baseball. There was nothing like it. Everybody wanted to be Ken Griffey Jr. When I was in the Minor Leagues and struggling, I tried taking his swing over to the right side. It didn’t work quite as well, of course. But it was fun, trying to use that Griffey swing.

When you think about what he’s done – 625 home runs, the highlight plays with the glove, and think about all the time he’s missed with injuries – he’s one of the greats of all time.

I’ve tried to follow in the footsteps of Ken Griffey and Kirby Puckett in center field, and now maybe there are young guys watching me and wanting to play the way I do. If that’s the case, it’s an honor to carry on that tradition.

When I was a young guy, I used to watch everything Griffey did, especially in center field. He was The Man. We had video of him, and I studied how he’d take straight angles to the ball – A to B, not A to C. I wanted to do everything the way he did, because he was the master out there.

I never took a homer away from him – he usually gave you no chance with those monster drives he’d hit. He’d usually pull the ball, too. I did rob him of a few hits, doubles and triples. He’d just stand there and look at me. You know I loved that. The respect I have for that guy is huge.

Any time I had a chance, I asked him questions, just like I always did with Kirby. That’s how you learn. Ask questions. I always tell the younger players not to be shy, to ask me anything they want. That’s what I’m here for, to help out. In this game, you can never have enough information.

There are a lot of really talented young center fielders now, and it’s great to see. Adam Jones in Baltimore, he calls me every week. We talk about the game, life outside the game, anything he wants. He’s playing the game the way I did at 24, and when he’s 34, he’ll be playing like I am now.

Curtis Granderson in Detroit, we’ve gotten close. He’s my guy. Grady Sizemore is cool, and a great talent. Matt Kemp with the Dodgers, I love that guy. I like being like a big brother to all these guys.

It kind of runs from Griffey and Kirby through me and now through all these young guys coming up. We’re all connected in that way. It’s always been an honor to be on the same field with Ken Griffey Jr.

It might be winding down for him now, but you still see that smile, that love of being in the uniform and being on the field.

The man is a legend, and I’m definitely a better player and person for wanting to be like him.

12 Comments

Hey Tori first time I saw Griffey Jr. was at a San Bernardino Spirits game in 89 it was great! I forgot you were 34 you don’t look it! I was just talking about your swing with my fellow angel fan and we noticed you have a swing style that steers and lifts the ball while you hold your bat out after the swing. It really is one of a kind and I’m sure batter’s are trying to emulate you as well now. We do stand on shoulders of giants when it comes to learning a trade or skill. It takes alot of practice, dedication and curiosity to be really master a craft. Once you stop learning you stop growing a manger once told me and it is so true like you pointed out. Have a nice day.

Hey Tori first time I saw Griffey Jr. was at a San Bernardino Spirits game in 89 it was great! I forgot you were 34 you don’t look it! I was just talking about your swing with my fellow angel fan and we noticed you have a swing style that steers and lifts the ball while you hold your bat out after the swing. It really is one of a kind and I’m sure batter’s are trying to emulate you as well now. We do stand on shoulders of giants when it comes to learning a trade or skill. It takes alot of practice, dedication and curiosity to be really master a craft. Once you stop learning you stop growing a manger once told me and it is so true like you pointed out. Have a nice day.

Whenever I am at a game I can see the Angel dugout from my seat. I always notice your smile and how you make sure you go up to all the players and mangers before the game. You and Bobby Abreu are the only two players that will go up to the managers. I have to hand it to you… you are making sure to make contact with your entire team. You are a very motivating member of your team. I am very impressed with the fact that you not only talk with your own team mates but you keep in touch with other players from other teams. BRAVO….to you Torii. Stay healthy and have fun!!!

Torii’s THE MAN!!!

good game tonight guys! Torii, I’ve been waiting since May when you guys were last in Seattle and will be at the Wednesday game, hope you’re playing and hope to meet you again!

i love facing seattle because it means i get to see The Kid’s beautiful swing :) (and ichiro of course). I too admire Griffey not only because of his talent but his ability to light up a room with his smile. Kind of like yourself no? I think Griffey is a very respectable ballplayer and he sets such a great example for fans/players of all ages. He’s one of my fav players in baseball. Thanks for blogging about Griffey Mr Hunter :) And if you haven’t noticed i believe you and Junior have quite the same qualities :D

best of luck this season!

Torii….YOU are the Man ! You are young enough to be my son…but I have tremendous respect for you as a player and as a man. I saw your attitude in the loss of Nick Adenhart and it was amazing the way you stood by them and the Angel family…I think you are one of the Angels I will always remember and respect the most…when you go into the Hall…I hope you go as an ANGEL…we love ya man ! thanks for sharing your talent with us…I hope you finish out your career as an Angel ! We appreciate you here more than you know ! B

It says alot about you Torii to have recognized that moment when Junior took the time to pass you on the field and comment. He went out of his way to reach out to you and you have carried on that tradition of mentoring that has been a staple of baseball forever. Rest assured, you are admired and looked up to by players (and non-players) at all levels. You’re a fabulous man, Torii.

Buz – http://buzblog.mlblogs.com/

I don’t usually post on any sites but I want you to know how you made our 30th anniversary a day we will always remember! We were married young, I was only 17, could not afford a honeymoon and when our 30th anniversary came around we are still struggling. We could not afford a proper celebration but we went to see the Angel game and you made it special. It was the game in April of 2008 that you hit the walk off grand slam! We screamed so loud we were hoarse for days. It was all worth it!! I want you to know how much your great plays and infectious smile really keep the game worth watching. I am a huge Figgins fan and loved how you went to bat for him to get to the Allstar game this year! You are a hero in my book! Thanks for the memories!

First time I found your blong Torii, glad I did you are a class act and I am so happy you’ve been with my favorite team.

hey, i’ve been watching the angels, play ever since i was a little kid, even though i live in seattle, u and vladimir have really made me feel good, when i come back to home, and i check the score and see that you and vlad each hit homeruns, i just had one question, do you think u wil make it to the world series

Hey Torii, great game last night. Glad I got to take my boyfriend for his birthday to see a great game! But, what I really wanted to show you is a bit unrelated. I opened up the LA Times today and was appalled at what I’d been subjected to in the sports section. Let me share a bit of it with you:

LA Times columnist T.J. Simers visited the Angels’ clubhouse to see whether anyone had developed any charisma the last few months. Most of the pitchers were reading books, maybe the only team in baseball with so many players who can read, the whole place, though, feeling more like a library than a clubhouse. Brian Fuentes’ locker was on the opposite side of the room, the other pitchers apparently not liking him. Or maybe this side of the room is for those who can’t read. Whatever, I asked what it was like playing for a boring team, figuring it has to be exciting after playing previously for Colorado. I was nice too, never letting on that I knew he had lost his job as closer when the Rockies went to the World Series. “I don’t know what to tell you, man,” huffed Fuentes, while quickly grabbing his stuff. “I got some other stuff to do.”

And my response:

Mr. Simers;
Your article just proves why no one reads the Times anymore. It was extremely rude, condescending, pessimistic, and unnecessary. I’m sorry I had to find it on Fox Sports rumors page, and be subjected to such crap. The Angels may not be “your” LA team, but they deserve some respect. As a player, Fuentes deserved more than your immature speculations about his locker placement. Pretty low blow. I would hope someone with professional writing experience would do better to leave his personal biases in his living room than to take them to print and sound like a tantrum throwing five year old. Wow, is all I have to say to that. I’m ashamed to even be a subscriber of this paper. I might think twice about renewing it if this is the kind of thing I’m going to be subjected to when looking for news about my LA teams.
And on another note, I would think we’d be proud of players that enjoy reading and encourage an education. As a public school English teacher, I’m offended that anyone would make reading sound “dull” or “boring” especially when there are young people reading your articles. I hope none of them take you seriously enough to change their reading patterns because you think reading makes for “boring” people.
I’m sad that I have to turn the page in the actual paper and see it glaring at me a full page of nonsense, rumor-laden bias. Thanks for alienating a reader that USED to have respect for journalistic media.
Stacy Morrison

Just wanted to raise awareness about how terrible our sports media can be. As an English teacher, I highly praise the emphasis on education, literacy, and education that your team has displayed. I can’t believe anyone would make that out to be a negative, and they wonder why our students these days think reading is for the “uncool” – our media is almost wanting our youth to be ignorant so that they’ll have to rely on the opinions of people like this guy in the paper. I’ve never been so angry and put off in my life.

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