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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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February 19, 2009 10:18 AM

Griffey buzz all over

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Don't forget the Geoff Baker Live! show, coming up today at 1 p.m. Pacific time, on-location from the Peoria Sports Complex.

There was one main topic of conversation in the Mariners clubhouse today and it involved the addition of Ken Griffey Jr., who has yet to give an ETA for when he'll show up. Officials don't expect a press conference until Saturday or Sunday, though he could fly out to Arizona as early as tomorrow.

Things are not quite so jovial at Braves camp in Atlanta, where the team feels spurned and everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else.

But the buzz in the Mariners clubhouse was positive amongst players both young and old. Hey, what did you expect them to say? That they hate the guy? But many players spoke of the positive contributions Griffey could make off the field as well as on it.

"He can show people how to play the game and make sure nobody steps out of line,'' third baseman Adrian Beltre, likely the biggest clubhouse leader on the team, said just before taking the field for this morning's workout. "Even if he doesn't say anything to anybody, he's headed to the Hall of Fame. I think the young guys are going to take a look at him and try to be like him.''

Mariners starter Jarrod Washburn said he's excited to be teaming with Griffey.

"I think we'll be a little better,'' Washburn said. "I think he'll help on the field, obviously. Any time you bring in a future Hall of Famer to a club, whether he's past his prime or not, it's going to help. It adds a presence to the lineup. Just the name puts a little extra something in the opposing pitchers' mind and makes the game plan just a little different.

"I think it brings a good presence to the clubhouse,'' he added. "Someone for the young guys to watch and learn from and see how to go about their business, things like that. I think it's going to make for a better atmosphere at the park.''

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My next question to Washburn was whether a newcomer like Griffey -- even a future Hall of Famer -- can have much of an impact on a team that he doesn't really know anyone on. How much "street cred'' will Griffey really carry, especially with younger -- and let's face it, sometimes cocky players who don't always have a healthy respect for the game's history?

"It does with me,'' Washburn said of such credibility. "Any time you have a guy like that, just because of what he's done in his past, he automatically earns your respect. I'm not sure if all the young guys feel the same way nowadays. It seems like there's a different attitude with how guys are coming up nowadays. But for me, even being a veteran playing for 10 or 12 years, he's a guy you look up to. I'm glad to have an opportunity to play with him.''

Washburn added that it's not entirely fair for anyone to expect Griffey to come in and pick things up on his own. It's up to the current Mariners, he said, to up their level of play and make the transition to his former team easier for Griffey.

And talking to some of the younger players, many of them seemed genuinely in awe of Griffey.

Bryan LaHair said he idolized Griffey, even while growing up in New England, where the Red Sox reign supreme.

"I tried to emulate his swing in high school,'' said LaHair, himself a lefty power hitter. "It wasn't like his. But, I had his posters up on my wall. One time my best friends, they got me a painting of Griffey and they gave it to me for my birthday one year. They know I'm a big fan.''

The painting is still hanging in the bedroom of his brother, Jeff, who phoned LaHair on Wednesday night when news of the Griffey signing came down.

"It's really strange because I used to sit there dreaming of being a teammate of his when I was younger,'' LaHair said. "I mean, a lot of kids probably did that. But for me, it's actually going to happen. My brother called me and reminded me of that.''

Jeff Clement had a similar phone call from his brother on Wednesday, having grown up pretending to be Griffey while playing whiffle ball in his backyard in Iowa. Clement said he probably won't tell Griffey the whiffel ball story.

"After we had heard that he was going to sign, I said 'What do you call a guy like that? What do you refer to him as? And my brother made the joke 'Just call him Mr. Junior.' ''

Ryan Feierabend was in high school in Cleveland back when Griffey first came over to the Reds.

"When he came to Cincinnati, I was a freshman going into my sophomore year,'' he said. "Obviously, I grew up watching the Indians, but any time there wasn't an Indians game on they always had Cincinnati games on up north. To be able to watch him play in Cincinnati was something special.

"I can speak on behalf of the younger guys,'' he added. "All the younger guys are very excited to have him in the clubhouse. A lot of the guys looked up to him. The guys I'm talking about are guys who watched him in the home run derbys, stuff like that. As far as the veterans, I'm sure they're just as excited as we are.''

Feierabend actually pitched against Griffey when he made his emotional return to Safeco Field in June of 2007. Feierabend threw twice over to first base to hold the runner during Griffey's first at-bat, prompting boos from the pitcher's own Seattle fans.

Griffey wound up notching a single.

"In batting practice you get to face him a little bit,'' he said. "Hopefully, we don't have the same atmosphere as at Safeco and I'm getting booed by forty-something thousand fans.''

I asked Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu whether it put any added pressure on a rookie manager to have a Hall of Famer come in to play at the last minute. Wakamatsu shook his head and said if anything, it's "a feather in my cap'' to have a player of Griffey's stature come in.

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Wakamatsu met with Griffey and his wife, Melissa, for two hours on Sunday at the team's headquarters here. The Mariners had quietly brought Griffey in for a physical -- he took an MRI on his knee at an off-site facility -- at the Peoria Sports Complex, where he also met with CEO Howard Lincoln and GM Jack Zduriencik.

They spoke of the Mariners and their needs. Wakamatsu got an idea of Griffey's wants as well. He said it's too early to talk about where Griffey will play, or how often, or where in the lineup he'll fit -- though this team certainly needs a middle of the order power presence.

"He knows his body, he's a guy towards the end of his career,'' Wakamatsu said. "He'll let us know and we'll let him know when we get down that road.''

And oh yeah, it is No. 24 he'll wear. That's been confirmed.

Some more quick news for you this morning: first base prospect Mike Carp was involved in what we're told was a rather serious car crash en route from Los Angeles to training camp here. Carp was told to remain in California to take care of any issues, but is otherwise OK and expected to arrive here today. This is a relief for the Mariners, because as we've mentioned, Carp -- a key figure in the J.J. Putz trade -- could have a shot at a major league spot as soon as next spring.

Wladimir Balentien is still having visa issues. He's from Curacao, but lives in Caracas with his Venezuelan wife in the off-season.

Finally, Yuniesky Betancourt is taking part in some workouts today, but is still day-to-day with that hamstring issue.

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