Does your dad have a milestone birthday coming up? Do you have a plan for what to get him?
Ken Griffey Jr. had a famously close connection with his dad, as you might recall. And when he and the Cincinnati Reds stepped off the bus outside Denver’s Coors Field on April 10, 2000, everything was set up for The Kid to give the most natural present he could for Senior’s 50th birthday: a b-day blast.
Let’s revisit Griffey’s dinger -- which had plenty of significance outside of his pops, too -- as we go back 20 years in time for today’s box score of the day, an early-season 7-5 win for the Rockies.
Player of the game: Ken Griffey Jr., CF, Reds
Griffey’s fourth-inning shot to left field wasn’t just any old dinger; it was the 400th of his career. Yes, Mariners fans were oh-so-close to watching their hero reach the milestone, but Griffey requested a trade after the 1999 season while his career total sat at 398. After vetoing a trade to the Mets, Griffey ultimately got his wish and was traded to Cincinnati. This was just his eighth game in a Reds uniform.
The homer made him -- at 30 years and 141 days of age -- the youngest player in Major League history to reach 400 homers, besting Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx by 107 days. And how’s this for poetry? Griffey swatted No. 400 on the same calendar day, April 10, that he hit his very first Major League homer in 1989 -- which, if you’re following along closely, was Ken Griffey Sr.’s 39th birthday. To summarize: Junior is way better at presents than the rest of us.
“The biggest thing is, I tell my dad it’s a cheap way of not buying him a gift on his birthday,” Griffey told The Associated Press. “So he’ll get this ball. My mom got 399, and he’s got 400.”
Griffey was still possibly the best ballplayer on the planet when he arrived in Cincinnati, but the 2000 campaign marked one of his final years of superstar production before injuries crept in. He finished the year with 40 homers, 118 RBIs and a .942 OPS.
Remember him? Rolando Arrojo, RHP, Rockies
Every milestone dinger needs a pitcher victim, and on this occasion it was Arrojo -- who had a lot on his mind already as he was navigating his first career home start at Coors Field. Credit to him, Junior’s homer was the only one Arrojo gave up that afternoon, as he earned the win with six innings of two-run ball.
Serving up Griffey’s 400th homer might not even be Arrojo’s best trivia fact, however. The Cuban right-hander was also the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ very first All-Star in 1998, representing the expansion franchise after he compiled an excellent 3.06 ERA across 18 first-half starts for a last-place club. But the league began to figure him out in ‘99, and he was traded to Colorado after that season in exchange for Vinny Castilla.
He wore THAT uniform? Dante Bichette, RF, Reds
Speaking of “Blake Street Bombers” in strange places. Yes, Bichette wore the red pinstripes, if only for a hot second. Knee problems had greatly diminished Bichette’s mobility in the outfield by the end of 1999, and with younger sluggers like Larry Walker and Todd Helton now leading the Rockies’ attack, Colorado decided to trade the soon-to-be 36-year-old shortly after the World Series.
Bichette had still slugged enough to justify his lineup spot during his final years in Denver, but even that began to wane once he left Colorado’s thin mountain air. He went 0-for-3 out of the cleanup spot in this quick return to Coors Field, and in August, he was traded again to the Red Sox for Boston’s postseason push.
Before he was big: Aaron Boone, 3B, Reds
Back in 2000, the Yankees’ current manager was probably best known for being part of a proud baseball family, just like the Griffeys. He was coming off his first full season as the Reds’ primary third baseman, and a year away from playing under his father, Bob, once the elder Boone took over the club’s manager job from Jack McKeon.
Boone went 2-for-4 from his customary seventh spot in the order in this game, coming around to score on D.T. Cromer’s three-run homer in the top of the ninth. Though he was already a solid hitter then, finishing the 2000 season with a .285 average and .826 OPS, Boone wouldn’t earn his lone All-Star selection until 2003 -- the same year he hit a fairly famous home run.
Last call: Stan Belinda, RHP, Rockies
Belinda was on the other side of that Bichette trade, meaning both he and Bichette were reunited with their old clubs real quick. The right-hander, who got the save in this game by coming in to get the final out for Colorado, is best known for his role as Pirates’ closer in Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series, when he surrendered Francisco Cabrera’s game-winning single that brought home Sid Bream and sent the Braves to the World Series.
Belinda’s reputation in Pittsburgh never recovered after that night, and the Pirates traded him at the next year’s Trade Deadline as they entered a rebuild. Belinda resurfaced for some of his best seasons as a long-relief man for the Reds, but it was with Cincinnati that he encountered his biggest challenge. In September 1998, Belinda was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, yet he kept pitching while receiving daily injections of the drug Copaxone and transforming his diet. Though he pitched just two more seasons with the Reds, Rockies and Braves, the fact that Belinda kept pitching at all is somewhat remarkable.