Griffey, the Mariners’ merry prankster, hits camp early

  • Sat Feb 20th, 2010 12:05am
  • Sports

By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer

PEORIA, Ariz. — Sleek, black luxury car? Could belong to any number of players.

Stylish but baggy gray sweatsuit and bucket cap pulled over the eyes? That narrows it down to a half-dozen or so.

Mouth that never stops?

Unquestionably, Ken Griffey Jr.

Three days before position players are required to report, Griffey arrived at the Seattle Mariners’ spring training complex Friday morning and spread his presence throughout the clubhouse, where any player was fair game for his humor.

To new third baseman Chone Figgins: “You looked a lot bigger in red.”

To center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, who signed a four-year $20.25 million contract over the winter: “I’ll be getting some of your money now that you got that big contract.” (Griffey is the judge of the team’s kangaroo court)

Pointing to new pitcher Cliff Lee: “I’m going to throw bunting practice to pitchers this year. That guy might get one behind his back.”

Six years ago, Lee was suspended for six games after throwing a pitch behind Griffey during an interleague game between the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds.

Griffey didn’t pull on a uniform or grab a bat, but his mere presence was noteworthy on a team that seems eager to accomplish something this season. Several position players have been here much of the week working out, and Friday the ranks swelled with the arrival of center fielder Franklin Gutierrez and third baseman Chone Figgins. And, of course, Griffey.

“It got a lot louder in there,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “It’s amazing how one guy can change the karma of a room.”

Look for more karma on Sunday, because that’s when Mike Sweeney is expected to arrive.

“Everybody is excited, especially when you get Griff in early,” Wakamatsu said. “That puts the pressure on everyone else.”

Wakamatsu said he called Sweeney, who signed a minor league contract last week, and asked why he hadn’t arrived yet.

“I said, ‘Griff’s here. Where you at?’” Wakamatsu said. “He said, ‘I got a late invitation. I’m staying at a trailer park on the other side of town because everything else was booked.’”

Griffey promised the Mariners he would report in much better shape than last year, although it wasn’t easy for Wakamatsu to get a good look at him because of the baggy sweat suit.

“I said, ‘You come in here looking like a boxer. I can’t tell,’” Wakamatsu said. “I had to give him a hug to see if he’d lost any weight. He tightened up on me.

“He looks in pretty good shape. But until you start running around out there, you can’t hide that. We’ll see how he feels, but all indications are that he’s in pretty good shape.”

Bedard’s comfort zone

Aside from the shoulder surgery that makes it uncertain when he’ll pitch again, there may not be a better scenario for Erik Bedard than what he now has with the Mariners.

More comfortable when the spotlight isn’t on him, Bedard seems much more relaxed and outgoing than in his previous two seasons with the Mariners. Wakamatsu is among those who has noticed.

“It’s amazing. With the (fielding drills) last year, he would be five feet back from everybody else. He feels pretty comfortable now.”

Why?

“I’d like to think that he enjoyed what happened last year as far as the environment,” Wakamatsu said. “Signing a guy like Cliff Lee, it puts him in an area where he’s a little more comfortable. You’ve got Felix (Hernandez) and Cliff Lee, and here’s a guy who can be as good as both of those guys without the pressure.

“To go back into a clubhouse where we have accepted him and he’s built some friendships, it’s fun for him. Last year … it seemed like the more attention you paid to him, the more he pulled away. So now we just ignore him.”

Bedard, who had surgery in August to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, may return in May or June. He is throwing off flat ground and on Friday increased to 12 minutes.

Of note

Friday was the two-week mark since pitcher Cliff Lee had a bone spur remove from his left foot, and Wakamatsu said he will join fielding drills soon.. “It might be as early as (today) and it might be two days from now,” Wakamatsu said. “I think he’s progressing pretty good.” … Catcher Rob Johnson (offseason surgery on both hips) caught in the bullpen for the first time in camp and was limited to one pitcher. Wakamatsu said Johnson looked good behind the plate, but also was impressive during batting practice. “When you watch him swing the bat, there’s a noticeable difference in his freedom of movement,” Wakamatsu said. “Watching him today, you wouldn’t know that he had surgery.” … Pitcher Jesus Colome arrived Friday — and threw in the bullpen — after being excused because of visa issues in the Dominican Republic. Pitcher Yusmiero Petit is expected to arrive today after dealing with a personal issue at home in Venezuela.

Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog