Griffey excited to represent U.S. at World Classic

Updated: February 16, 2006, 8:12 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

Center Field
Cincinnati Reds

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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. roster.

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 news]."

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 healthy.

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.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press