CHICAGO -- Ken Griffey Jr. recalls spending hours deep in the bowels of big league ballparks and working with Major Leaguers, to the extent of getting kicked out for spending so much time there.Griffey's time with his father, Ken Griffey Sr., exposed him to big league wisdom from a young
CHICAGO -- Ken Griffey Jr. recalls spending hours deep in the bowels of big league ballparks and working with Major Leaguers, to the extent of getting kicked out for spending so much time there.
Griffey's time with his father, Ken Griffey Sr., exposed him to big league wisdom from a young age. Now, he's looking to pay it forward to the next generation of baseball talent.
The Hall of Famer spoke with almost 60 promising high school baseball players at the Breakthrough Series at Curtis Granderson Field on the University of Illinois-Chicago campus Wednesday, opening a three-day event in partnership between Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association and USA Baseball.
The action continued Thursday with a special guest appearance from former Kansas City Royals All-Star and Chicago White Sox outfielder Bo Jackson, followed by a pair of showcase games in front of scouts and coaches.
High schoolers will spend the three days going through a series of drills under the tutelage of former big leaguers, and will get a chance to showcase their talents in games before attending a White Sox game Friday night.
It was the first time the series has come to Chicago since starting in 2008, with more than 160 alumni of the Breakthrough Series eventually hearing their name called in the MLB Draft -- with 16 coming in the 2017 Draft.
The kids, coming from 18 different states across the country and coming primarily from underserved urban communities, will receive tutelage from pros such as Griffey, fellow Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, Jerry Manuel, Reggie Smith, Tom Gordon and others in a diversity-based development camp seeking to showcase otherwise unseen talent.
Griffey spoke of his big league career, which ended in him being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame last year, as well as some of the perils that can befall a promising athlete.
"You have one shot at a career," Griffey said to open the camp. "Do what you can now, because you don't want to be a 'What If?' and still be talking years later about what you did in high school. I don't worry about [what I did in high school], I was worried about what I did from when I was 18 through 40."
Griffey said he saw the camp as a way to give talented college and soon-to-be Draft-eligible prospects who faced potential financial barriers a chance to perform on a big stage.
"It gives kids who wouldn't necessarily have the opportunity to play to be seen," Griffey said. "I talked about exposure, and talk about it all the time. You have a 65-year-old white scout, he's not going to go into an inner-city area to see one kid. A lot of these kids live in the inner city, and they're not going to be seen. That's the thing that we have to change, to get these kids seen. It's not just about being black or white, inner city is inner city."
Manuel, a former Chicago White Sox manager who has been an MLB Youth Programs consultant since he last managed with the Mets in 2010, said that while the game is in good shape, it's missing some of its stars due to them playing in other sports.
"I love to see guys that we have considered the best athletes in the world like Michael Jordan choose baseball after winning championships here in Chicago," Manuel said. "Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, Dave Winfield. We're not getting LeBron or Steph Curry yet, but we're getting back to getting that type of athlete in the game.
"We'd just like to see our kids get back in the game. With travel ball, and pay for play, it's become economically challenging."
Fabian Ardaya is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago.