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03/22/07 1:13 PM ET
Griffey all right with position switch
Veteran outfielder has no target date for return to field
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Ken Griffey Jr. already has his post-baseball future mapped out. "I'm working on my second career," Griffey said Thursday morning. "A professional vacationist. You take me on vacation." It's an enterprising idea, indeed. But in the present, his current career has taken him from center field to right field for the Cincinnati Reds -- once he's ready to return to action from a hand injury. On Monday, manager Jerry Narron announced that Griffey would be shifted from the position he's been identified with for all of his 18 big-league seasons. It's also where he won 10 Gold Gloves, one Most Valuable Player Award and recognition as a member of the All-Century team. The reasoning is Griffey's oft-injured legs would take less of a beating in a corner outfield spot. Ryan Freel, originally projected as the club's right fielder, will take over in center field. How did the switch of positions make the 37-year-old Griffey feel? Apparently, it was anticlimactic. "I knew a month ago," said Griffey, a 12-time All-Star with 563 career home runs. "It didn't really matter how I felt about it. That's really not important. I'm there, and I have to make the best of it. "It's really not that big of a deal. You guys [in the media] are making more out of it than it is. ... You never know. I may play [center field] again." Given his status in the game, and the glamour of his former position, the hoopla about Griffey's change of roles is justified. When other prominent players changed spots -- such as Alex Rodriguez, when he moved from shortstop to third base for the Yankees -- they also drew scrutiny. The idea of moving Griffey was first broached publicly in December, when he and his agent, Brian Goldberg, confirmed at the Winter Meetings that they were asked by the club to be open-minded about it. Per Griffey's wishes, the negotiations of the change and his eventual acquiescence to Narron and general manager Wayne Krivsky's wishes have been kept away from the public. "It's been behind closed doors all this time," Griffey said. "It pretty much stayed that way."
Griffey was asked about how different playing right field would be for him."Don't know. I've never done it," he said. A reporter reminded Griffey that he once started and played four innings in right field at San Francisco. It was Aug. 4, 2004, and the experiment ended when Griffey completely tore his right hamstring trying to make a sliding catch. It required season-ending surgery. "I don't have multiple games there I should say. I have multiple innings," Griffey said before dropping in some humor. "I've already had discussions with my pitchers. [Throw] hard in to righties and soft away to lefties. How hard is it to pitch like that for one year?" Switching outfield spots can often require an adjustment period for any player, since the view and angle of the ball coming off the bat is different at each position. Griffey won't be able to fully make those adjustments until he actually appears in a game as the right fielder. Slow to fully recover from the broken left hand he suffered in late December, he has not appeared in any exhibition games this spring. He has gotten some work in right field during drills on the practice fields, and he has been running and throwing as well. For just over two weeks, Griffey has also taken batting practice. He was asked if the pain still lingered in his hand, which drew a sharp reply. "What do you think, if I haven't played?" Griffey said. "There isn't too much I can't do with a ball and a bat. I've been doing it since I was three." Narron hoped he could get Griffey into a game by week's end. He delayed posting Thursday's starting lineup against the Yankees so he could check on the status of Griffey and several of his other injured players. Like in the previous 20 exhibition games, Griffey's name ultimately was missing from the batting order. Beginning the season on the disabled list remains a possibility if he can't get into a game or get ready in time for Opening Day on April 2. "The only thing we can do for all the guys that haven't been out there is try to get the guys ready that are able to play," Narron said. "Hopefully, these other guys that haven't been on the field can get ready as soon as possible. We'll see how much time they need after that." If a player doesn't appear in a big-league exhibition game after Thursday, clubs can make any DL stint retroactive to March 23. If Griffey were on the DL to start the season, he could return as soon as April 7. He is allowed to play in Minor League or "B' scrimmage games in spring without affecting his potential DL status. "If somebody is not going to be active on Opening Day, you want to get the least amount of DL time in the regular season as possible," Narron said. Griffey offered no target date for his return to the field, namely right field. "When I feel like I can go out there, I'll go out there," Griffey said. "[It's] the same stuff that I've said from Day 1."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.