CHICAGO -- Kyle Schwarber grew up in Middletown, Ohio, which is about 38 miles from Cincinnati, and he used to go to Reds games to watch Ken Griffey Jr. play."I have a picture of myself in T-ball wearing my hat backwards like he would in the Home Run Derby," Schwarber
CHICAGO -- Kyle Schwarber grew up in Middletown, Ohio, which is about 38 miles from Cincinnati, and he used to go to Reds games to watch Ken Griffey Jr. play.
"I have a picture of myself in T-ball wearing my hat backwards like he would in the Home Run Derby," Schwarber said. "I always used to do the Griffey stance with a wood bat when I was in T-ball. He's one of the guys you looked up to when you were little. That's who you wanted to go see play -- you were like, 'I want to watch Ken Griffey Jr. play.'"
On Sunday, Griffey will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame along with Mike Piazza. Schwarber, now an outfielder with the Cubs, said it's a perfect honor for the Cincinnati kid.
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"That guy was a special hitter and special player in the outfield," Schwarber said. "My uncle, [Tom], got to play with him in high school at Moeller [in Cincinnati]. I don't remember if my uncle was a senior and [Griffey] was a freshman, but it was cool to be able to be around that time when he was there with Barry Larkin and all those guys.
"[Griffey] was always fun to watch. He could put one out of the ballpark at any time. Him being such a dynamic player even before he came to the Reds from Seattle, just making those plays in the outfield and everything, he was just a fun player to watch. He's one of the best all-around players in the game. That's why he's going into the Hall of Fame."
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Cubs veteran catcher David Ross played with Griffey in Cincinnati from 2006-08, and he got to see the talent up close.
"The nickname 'The Kid' is the truth, because he always had fun playing," Ross said. "He had that infectious smile and enjoyed trying to hit homers and rob homers. I caught him at the back end of his career, but he was a great player and did some special things. I felt his swing was always exactly the same. We get uncomfortable with our swings, and he had one of the prettiest swings you'll ever see from a left-handed hitter."
Cubs catcher Miguel Montero remembered an Interleague game on June 19, 2009, when the D-backs were facing the Mariners in Seattle. The Mariners had one on in the eighth, and Griffey was set to pinch-hit. Arizona pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. came out to the mound and wanted to know the game plan from Montero, who was then catching for the D-backs, and pitcher Tony Pena.
"I said, 'Let's pound him in, fastballs in, or go to the slider right away and keep the ball close to him,'" Montero said. "The pitching coach said, 'No, let's do this. Let's start him out with a sinker down and away and go from there.' I said, 'I'm not sure, let's keep the ball close to him.' He said, 'Let's go away.'"
What happened? First pitch, two-run home run.
"He was so smooth. He was fun to watch, that type of swing," Montero said of Griffey. "It's hard to duplicate that swing. It's something you can't teach. If you go out there and try to duplicate that swing, you can't do it. It's something you're born with."
Cubs manager Joe Maddon's recalls seeing Griffey when he was 17 and playing his first season of professional baseball for the Mariners' low Class A team in Bellingham, Wash.
"Bellingham is not a big ballpark, but it's really hard to hit the ball out of that ballpark," Maddon said. "I saw him rifle something out to right field. You could see he was special, he was different. You could see the talent level was enormous."
Griffey also inspired Maddon to suggest to then-Angels manager Terry Collins that they should consider using a defensive shift against the star outfielder.
"He was the first guy I talked [Collins] into shifting -- it was , probably," said Maddon, who was then on the Angels' coaching staff. "I walked in with the chart and said, 'Would you mind if we tried this with this guy tonight, Griffey?' and [Collins] said, 'Sure.'
"Griffey attempted to bunt one time, unsuccessfully. Those are the two moments -- the homer in Bellingham and the time we shifted him. That emboldened me to do that more defensively."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.