PEORIA, Ariz. – The energy in the Seattle Mariners’ spring training clubhouse was just as obvious as the No. 24 jersey that hung in the locker labeled “Griffey.”
Ken Griffey Jr. wasn’t in the house Thursday – that will happen Saturday – but his impact already had arrived. Usually busy but businesslike, the clubhouse buzzed with talk of Griffey and a sense of anticipation before the Mariners’ morning workout.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Griffey ended a week of suspense when he decided to play for the Mariners this year. It brings him back to the franchise where he started his career but, in rejecting a similar offer from the Atlanta Braves, Griffey passed on a chance to play closer to his home in Orlando, Fla.
The Mariners, obviously, think he made the right decision.
“I don’t think he will regret this move, coming back here,” said Russell Branyan, the newly acquired first baseman who played with Griffey in 2002 and 2003 with the Cincinnati Reds. His locker is next to Griffey’s.
Nobody was promising that Griffey would turn around the franchise after the Mariners’ 101-loss season in 2008. But the clubhouse Thursday clearly was a better place to be, especially compared with the friction, bitterness and lack of a unifying presence that existed last year.
“I think he can bring some leadership for the younger guys and he obviously brings a presence to the lineup, but maybe the biggest thing he can bring is some excitement to the ballpark,” pitcher Jarrod Washburn said. “I don’t think any of us are naïve enough to think we are going to be packing the stands early on, but he will help bring people to the ballpark and help create an atmosphere that is more conducive to winning.”
Manager Don Wakamatsu said it’s too soon to determine where Griffey will get most of his playing time. Left field and designated hitter are the likely spots.
“We are going to let this play out when he gets to camp and talk to him about how he feels,” Wakamatsu said. “I’m kind of excited to see how he moves around out there.”
Griffey had surgery in October to repair torn cartilage in his left knee, an injury that the Mariners believe affected his swing last season.
“He’s a guy towards the end of his career,” Wakamatsu said. “It’s too early to talk about lineups or how much playing time until we get a chance to talk with each other about how his body feels.”
Until then, it’s the Griffey aura that will have an impact.
Griffey plans to arrive in Peoria on Saturday, meet the media early that afternoon and work out in Mariners gear for the first time since the 1999 season.
Sunday, he’ll practice with the team for the first time.