PEORIA, Ariz. - Since the day Ken Griffey Jr. telephoned Chuck Armstrong last June, announcing his retirement from the road as he drove toward his Florida home, the Seattle Mariners have talked about getting him back.
“Junior’s home,” team president Armstrong said Tuesday.
For the Mariners and the Northwest, those two words may be as meaningful to the franchise as any spoken all spring.
Griffey, the best player in team history, rejoined the Mariners and accepted a newly created job – special consultant – that will have him working with players, the public, the sponsors and perhaps Safeco Field ushers.
“When he finished playing, he wanted to establish a lifelong relationship as a Mariner,” Armstrong said. “The situation is evolving; specific dates and times and exactly what he’s going to be doing, we’ll figure out as we go along.
“He is our iconic player and our biggest star, and we’re happy to have him back home.”
Griffey retired last season after 22 years in the major leagues – 13 of those with Seattle. He finished what was a Hall of Fame career with a .284 batting average, 630 home runs and 1,836 RBI.
The Mariners say Griffey will come to spring training “at some point” this year, visit Seattle during the regular season and work with both major- and minor-league players within the organization.
“Someone like Ken Griffey Jr. can give kids direction, so you make sure you bring him in and let him make an impact,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “A lot can be taken from a Hall of Fame player.”
Armstrong said that even before Griffey signed to come back to Seattle as a player two years ago, a position like this was discussed.
“This is something that’s been in the works for over two years. We were waiting for the time with Ken when he got the time to do this,” Armstrong said. “Why now? Why not now?”
While the job is still a work in progress, Armstrong said Griffey was adamant about one part of it.
“He wants to tell our minor leaguers what it means to be a Mariner and why it’s special to be a Mariner,” Armstrong said. “I can’t think of anybody who can better deliver that message than Ken Griffey Jr.
“He had this idea where he and his old minor league roommate, Roger Hansen, would visit our minor league affiliates and talk about being a Mariner, how hard you have to work. I can imagine Junior showing up in Pulaski (West Virginia) or Clinton, Iowa, and the whole town turning out.”
The team has not, Armstrong said, put together a date to honor Griffey at Safeco Field, and isn’t certain Junior will be on hand for the Mariners’ home opener in April.
Griffey fended off interview requests, saying he’d talk when he arrived in camp, but did issue a brief statement.
“I look forward to staying very involved with the Mariners, working with the players throughout the organization, staying involved in the community and assisting in other areas of the organization,” Junior said. “It’s an exciting time and I’m appreciative of the opportunity.”
Armstrong was asked about the disappointment – on all sides – that stemmed from Griffey’s awkward 2010 departure.
“In his mind, he didn’t think he had any alternative,” Armstrong said. “We might have wished that he did it differently, but in his mind he did it in the right way for himself and the franchise.”
IS MR. FELIX HERE?
In the life-will-humble-you drawer, file this:
Felix Hernandez, the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner, was walking into the Mariners’ complex Tuesday morning the same time a Fed-Ex deliveryman was bringing in a package.
“I noticed him coming in,” Felix said.
The FedEx man then walked into the media room and asked if anyone knew where he could find “a Felix Hernandez” so he could deliver the package.
“Not everybody knows me,” Hernandez said, laughing.
The latest position player to wander in and take a little early batting practice? Utilityman Matt Tuiasosopo, who once again faces a spring training in which he’ll be one of a half-dozen players fighting for a spot on Seattle’s bench. ... General manager Jack Zduriencik is taking a few days away from camp to attend the funeral of good friend Chuck Tanner, who managed the Pittsburgh Pirates, among other teams. ... Yusmeiro Petit reportedly has cleared customs and the visa problems that had kept him in Venezuela, and will report to camp today or Thursday. ... Chris Gimenez, after catching rookie reliever Dan Cortes in the bullpen, was asked if the right-hander had thrown hard. “He can’t help himself,” Gimenez said. “He always throws hard.” ... Then there was Miguel Olivo, who caught knuckleball specialist Charlie Haeger. “I only dropped two,” Olivo said, “but I don’t want to hit against him.”