SEATTLE – There are a few things I’d like to catch up on today – how my Angels are coming alive, Ken Griffey Jr., my man from Arkansas Derek Fisher – but first I’d like to let fans know about something new on the site.
I’d like you to become a part of my VIP Mobile Fan Club! It’s free to join. All you have to do is text Go Torii to the number 68398. We will be doing giveaways and contests all season long.
All the information can be found here: http://www.toriihunter.com/news.php?news=49
As for the Angels, it’s been a long climb, but we’re starting to play and feel like ourselves again. That is really good to see, for everybody. Where we were in April, it could only get better. We were so down and out, it wasn’t even our team. Defensively, offensively, pitching . . . that wasn’t us. We didn’t even have our instincts. It was strange.
Now it’s more like us. We’re in games to the finish. Even when we lose, we feel like we’ve got a shot, that we just ran out of innings. It wasn’t like that in April. I hate that we lost Kendry Morales, one of our best hitters and run producers – and a guy who was playing great defense at first base. We’re trying to fill in with my old buddy Michael Ryan and Mike Napoli, Robb Quinlan. You can’t really replace a guy like Kendry, but if we get production from the rest of our big bats, we’ll score runs.
Hideki Matsui is swinging like he can again, and that’s great to see. This guy can hit. I’ve always said that, and he’s showing it again. With Bobby Abreu and the other guys getting on base and the big guys producing runs, we can score. Our pitching is definitely coming around and our defense is getting more consistent, too. I’m excited about where we are. I keep coming back to last year, when we were 29-29 on June 11 and took off after we had a terrible loss in Tampa Bay.
It’s that time of year where a lot of these guys start to heat up. I’ve always been that way, and I’ve been feeling good at the plate. I tend to heat up with the weather.
It’s sad to be here in Seattle and not see Ken Griffey Jr. He’s one of my favorite players and favorite guys. He was a little ahead of me, and I used to watch everything he did and try to do it like he did. I even tried swinging from the left side when I was young, because I loved his swing so much. It was perfect. The thing about Junior was he loved the game and everything about it. He made it fun, showed everyone that you could play the game all-out – crashing into walls, making fantastic plays – and still have a smile on your face. He had a big influence on me, just like Kirby Puckett when I was a young kid with the Twins.
One last word on the blog is for Derek Fisher of the Lakers. When I was growing up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, one of our big rivals was D-Fish’s high school, Little Rock Parkview. We were only about 30 minutes away, and we played them in everything. Lots of great memories there.
D-Fish was a legend in high school. He was going for 30, 40 points a game. I remember he got 55 one time. I didn’t play against him – he was a little ahead of me in school – but I watched him play. Naturally, I’m pulling for D-Fish now. I’ve also had some great times in Minnesota with Kevin Garnett of the Celtics, so I have a rooting interest in both teams in those NBA Finals.
All right, time to get to work. We’re wearing old-school uniforms from 1995 today against the Mariners. I was in my third year or pro ball in ’95, turning 20 years old, playing at Fort Myers. Man, that’s a long time ago.
We’ve been playing good ball lately and plan to keep it going. We’re going to do everything we can to take it all the way. You know that.
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.