SARASOTA, Fla. -- Ken Griffey Jr. is eager to represent his
country in the World Baseball Classic, a first-time tournament that
many other superstars are sitting out.
The Cincinnati Reds center fielder showed up at the team's
spring training complex Thursday, the reporting date for pitchers
and catchers. Unlike the last few years, he's healthy and ready to
play when camp opens.
And he's looking forward to representing the United States in
the Classic next month, joining Johnny Damon, Jeff Francoeur, Matt
Holliday, Vernon Wells and Randy Winn as outfielders on the U.S.
Griffey went from high school to professional baseball in 1987,
and never had a chance to represent the United States in the
Olympics or an amateur competition.
"It's an opportunity I didn't get before turning pro," Griffey
said. "I'd like to represent my country."
He'll be in camp with the Reds for about two weeks, then head to
Arizona for the games, leaving his teammates behind.
"That's going to be weird," he said. "But I'll still be on
the phone and looking at the paper in the morning [for Reds
Griffey, 36, won the National League's comeback player award for
overcoming a major hamstring injury and having an impressive 2005
season -- .301 with 35 homers and 92 RBI. It was his best season
since 2000, his first in Cincinnati.
The next four years were spent overcoming one major injury after
another -- torn hamstrings, torn knee tendon, dislocated shoulder.
The most serious of all came during the 2004 season, when Griffey
tore his right hamstring from the bone.
Doctors reattached the hamstring with three screws -- a potential
career-ending injury. Griffey wasn't ready when spring training
opened last season, and didn't get back to form until May. Once the
leg was strong, he showed he was still one of the game's best when
Griffey played in 128 games last season, his highest total since
2000. For the first time in years, he didn't have to spend an
offseason getting his body back in shape from a major injury.
"That's a good thing," he said. "Now it's just trying to get
in baseball shape."
Several other Reds are expecting to play for their countries in
the Classic -- shortstop Felipe Lopez and catcher Javier Valentin
for Puerto Rico, outfielder Wily Mo Pena for the Dominican
Republic, left-hander Jung Keun Bong for Korea and infielder Frank
Menechino for Italy.