If I spend one more day in Braves’ camp, I going to have to join the Atlanta chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. A few of the national writers are here today, too — Ken Rosenthal of Fox, Scott Miller of CBS Sportline, freed from the web of A-Rod to pursue the Ken Griffey Jr. story.
First off: No official announcement of a deal, and no Junior sighting here yet. No one knows for sure if and when he will be in camp here today in Orlando, where the Braves’ first full-squad workout begins in just a few minutes. But there is still the expectation that Griffey will end up, ultimately, with the Braves. Word is that Griffey is upset the story of his decision to sign with the Braves leaked out in the Atlanta newspaper yesterday. Chipper Jones just said moments ago when I asked him if expected to see Griffey today, “I expect to hear from him today. I don’t know if I’ll see him today. If he’s not here by now, I doubt I’ll see him today.”
But Jones, who has been close to Griffey throughout this whole process, acting as a liaison between the team and Junior, talked with confidence about having Junior as a teammate. If Griffey had decided to play for the Braves for family reasons and proximity to his home in Orlando — and there’s little doubt he had done that yesterday — I can’t imagine he’d change his mind just because of a leak.
Here’s more of the interview with Jones, who held court with about six of us this morning. I began by asking him about his feelings over the prospect of playing with Griffey:
“It’s exciting, bringing a guy like that in, with his track record, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I think he’ll be worth his weight in gold, obviously on the field, but off as well. We’ve got a bunch of up and coming guys in the outfield that would be well-served to soak up everything they can from Junior.”
Asked his role in negotiations, Jones said, “We’ve talked. That’s all I’m willing to say. I don’t get involved in the money, but I’m there to answer questions if there’s something about the organization or the clubhouse. General stuff that goes on around here every day. When it comes to the actual general managing part, I’m not quite ready for that.
(Asked if he sensed Griffey was struggling over the decision): ““I didn’t get that. I think he feels that he owes Seattle their due respect, and said that he had to talk to their guy out there. That’s all.”
(Is he assuming Griffey is a Brave?) “All signs are good, but I’m not going to smile until he signs on the line.”
(Is it true Griffey initially reached out to Jones about joining Atlanta): “Junior’s always … every time we’ve talked, he’s made some kind of comment like, ‘Can I get a tryout in Atlanta,’ or, ‘Are you ever going to get me to Atlanta’ — this, that and the other. I guess he thinks I got some pull over here. He’s always wanted to play here. He loves Bobby (Cox). He’s got his opportunity now. Hopefully, he’ll be patrolling left field pretty soon.
(How many times have you talked?) “A week’s worth. Once a day. Touching base, see what’s happening, trying to stay in the loop, because I’m curious (Jones noted that they’ve each called each other).
(Is Atlanta a good place for him?) “I think Atlanta is right up his alley. A lot of people think — and I was one of them — that early in his career, he was high-maintenance. Earring, hat on backwards, he wouldn’t fit in here in Atlanta. But I can see it from afar — Junior’s done a lot of growing up. I had a chance to play with him in the (World Basesball) Classic in 2006. I was in the same clubhouse for two or three weeks, going out to dinner. He’s down to earth and humble. He wants to go somewhere where he can feel comfortable and have fun. And I think he thinks this is the place.
“I knew him pretty well before that, but when you’re a teammate of somebody, you get to know him at a different level. It’s not just standing around the batting cage, shooting the breeze. You’re actually sharing a clubhouse with him, sharing a field, going to dinner. You’re getting to know him at a different level.
(On the lure of Braves manager Bobby Cox) “Don’t kid yourself. People come here…Yeah, they come here to win, but they come here because of Bobby. That man is as beloved throughout the league as any manager you’ll ever hear about. You’ll never hear anyone say a bad word about him. He’s the drawing card. For so long, back when Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz were in their heyday, it was real easy to get people to come here. Now, it’s just Bobby.
“He’s like your favorite Granddad. If you have two Granddads, he’s your favorite one. He’s the one that slips you a beer when you’re 18, he gives you your first chaw of tobacco, stuff like that. He’s the cool uncle, the cool Grandpa. He’s a guy with very few rules. You don’t see Bobby that often, but when he spokes, he’s E.F. Hutton. He’s garnered that respect and he’s won year after year. He’s won with talent, he’s won without talent. And he will win again.
“Ken is excited about some of the moves we’ve made in the offseason. He thinks, like the rest of us in the clubhouse, we’re going to be better than people think, and he was excited about it.”