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Griffey relishes fun-filled week in Japan

@gregjohnsmlb
March 21, 2019

TOKYO -- Ken Griffey Jr. would have loved to play a little Home Run Derby, just like old times. But when in Rome -- or Tokyo in this case -- you do what's asked. So the Mariners' Hall of Famer dutifully swung and missed at a pitch from former A's

TOKYO -- Ken Griffey Jr. would have loved to play a little Home Run Derby, just like old times. But when in Rome -- or Tokyo in this case -- you do what's asked. So the Mariners' Hall of Famer dutifully swung and missed at a pitch from former A's reliever Keiichi Yabu on Thursday to help put the finishing touches on the Opening Series on Thursday.

Griffey took part in the first pitch ceremony prior to Thursday's series finale as he wrapped up a fun-filled week in Japan. During Wednesday's opener, he sat with photographers in the photo well adjacent to the Mariners' dugout at field level at the Tokyo Dome and took pictures, one of his favorite hobbies.

But Thursday, he was the one everyone aimed their cameras at as fans in Tokyo relished the sight of one of baseball's all-time greats at the plate facing Yabu, now a pitching coach with the Hanshin Tigers. Griffey actually faced Yabu twice during his career, going 0-for-1 with a walk.

Former Oakland infielder Akinori Iwamura served as the catcher while Griffey stood in the box.

It was a flipped script from the Opening Night pregame ceremony when former Mariners closer Kazuhiro Sasaki threw the first pitch to his old Seattle catcher, Kenji Johjima -- with long-time A's star Rickey Henderson standing in the batter's box.

Henderson took a big swing as his pitch and also intentionally missed, which was the assignment given to the two Hall of Famers. Not ideal for Griffey, who would have loved to take a crack at the right-field seats in the Tokyo Dome, where he played in 1990 and '92 with a touring group of MLB All-Stars.

But he understands you don't mess with Japanese tradition.

"Nobody has ever hit one," he said of the first pitch ceremonies, "and I wasn't about to be the first."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.