VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Dozens of hands shot into the air when Ken Griffey Jr. opened the floor for questions Tuesday at the Elite Development Invitational in Historic Dodgertown."These guys want to help you to be the best guys that you can be … the best people you can be,"
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Dozens of hands shot into the air when Ken Griffey Jr. opened the floor for questions Tuesday at the Elite Development Invitational in Historic Dodgertown.
"These guys want to help you to be the best guys that you can be … the best people you can be," Griffey said of the coaches at EDI. "If you guys do make it, it's our bragging rights; 'I remember this kid when he was 12, 13, 14, on up.' … We just want to let other kids know, 'Hey, he was in the same situation that you are in; he came to this camp. You can be that guy.'"
The Elite Development Invitational, a two-week course of intensive baseball instruction for 200 players aged 12-17, is one of the diversity-focused youth initiatives operated by Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association and USA Baseball, in an effort to further promote the involvement and development of aspiring ballplayers across the country. For the coaches of the event, who are former Major Leaguers, educating the next generation is one of the many reasons they come out to give back to the game they love; the bragging rights are just an added bonus.
"One thing that is lifelong, is your education; never stop learning," Griffey added about the impact of the teachings from this group of coaches. "If you have an area you feel you're weak at, talk to the guy that does it [well]."
Although players at the EDI may not remember that big, bright smile or the energy in the ballpark when Griffey hit one of his 630 home runs during his 22-year Major League career, they recognize him as a Hall of Famer and for the iconic moments that made him one of baseball's greatest stars.
One of those career benchmarks came in 1990, when Griffey Jr. and his father, Ken Griffey Sr., who had been teammates on the Mariners for less than a month, belted back-to-back home runs against the California Angels at Anaheim Stadium.
"He hit his, touches home plate, shook my hand and said, 'That's how you do it, son.' Then they gave me the 3-0 greenlight, and I hit mine out and I couldn't wait to shake his hand, but he made me shake everybody's hand first before I shook his. Then we sat down next to each other and he elbowed me and he said, 'You know what we just did?' and I said, 'Yeah, we went back-to-back home runs.' But I'm still focused on the game, he has a whole different mindset, he's looking at history."
A history that began when the 17-year-old kid from Cincinnati was drafted No. 1 overall by the Mariners.
"I went from playing 24 games in high school to 162 games a year and a half later. I wasn't ready for that," Junior said of the jump to the Majors.
In today's world of travel ball and 80-game summer seasons, that jump would be far less extreme, but every career will see adversity, and in a room full of diverse aspiring baseball players, Griffey emphasized the singular truth: "When you're on that baseball field, you're a baseball player. … You're not black, white, Puerto Rican, you're a baseball player and you've got to believe in yourself each and every day."
Shannon Ford is a contributor to MLB.com.