home run for a fallen New York hero
The Cincinnati Post
By Tony Jackson, Post staff reporter
PHILADELPHIA - It came in the fourth inning of what, for the Reds at least, was a meaningless, late-September game. It came with no one on base, meaning it accounted for just a single run in what became an 8-1 victory against the playoff-contending Philadelphia Phillies before 14,863 at Veterans Stadium.
But for Griffey, a man who now has hit 459 of them, this home run will go down as one of his most memorable.
''Top five, for sure,'' the Reds center fielder said.
Hours before the game, Reds media relations director Rob Butcher received an e-mail, one of dozens he receives every day and one that, like many of them, was intended to be passed on to a specific player. This time, the player was Griffey. And the e-mail came from Katrina Marino of New York.
Marino's husband is Kenny Marino, whose job was to save lives, and he did it while riding out on Rescue One of the New York Fire Department. Though they don't keep such statistics in the firefighter biz, it's fun to imagine Kenny Marino might have saved around 459 lives at one time or another, one for every home run his favorite ballplayer has hit.
Except that two weeks ago, in an effort to save a few more, Kenny Marino was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time - in the World Trade Center at a little past 9 on the morning of Sept. 11. Like several thousand other New Yorkers, many of them firefighters and police officers, Kenny Marino now is missing and presumed dead.
The e-mail, emotionally written by Katrina Marino, asked Griffey if he could hit a home run in Tuesday night's game, because that would make Kenny Marino smile down from heaven. Katrina knew, as did Griffey, that home runs aren't made to order. But whether it came by divine intervention or by sheer coincidence, Griffey came to the plate to lead off the fourth inning and promptly granted Katrina's wish.
Griffey drove a pitch from Philadelphia right-hander David Coggin into the Phillies bullpen in right field, giving the Reds a 2-0 lead. He then calmly circled the bases, went back to the dugout and remembered the Marinos, whose e-mail Butcher had printed out and left on a chair in front of Griffey's locker.
''I sat down and thought about what I just did and how happy the family is,'' Griffey said. ''Hopefully next year, when we go (to New York), I can meet them. There are so many people who lost their lives in this disaster. It doesn't matter what I do on the baseball field. This guy lost his life trying to save others. His wife asked me to hit a home run, and I was able to do it. I'm just glad I was able to make him smile.''
Ken Griffey Jr. never met Kenny Marino, except during a brief encounter in Seattle several years ago when Marino presented Griffey with an FDNY T-shirt for Griffey's son, Trey. Griffey now plans to return the favor by sending an autographed bat, the same bat he used to hit the home run, to Katrina Marino, a prelude to the meeting he hopes will take place next season in New York.
''We'll do it privately,'' Griffey said. ''We don't want to make a big show of it.''
Butcher planned to e-mail the Marino family after the game to make sure they were aware Griffey had come through. But as grateful as they no doubt will be, Griffey is equally grateful to have been Kenny Marino's favorite player and to receive the e-mail from Marino's wife.
''You can't say enough for that guy who lost his life,'' Griffey said.
While the Reds (62-89) have nothing substantive left to play for, they do have the consolation prize of being able to be thorns in the side of those teams still fighting for a postseason spot. On this night, they knocked the Phillies out of a first-place tie in the National League East, although there was a price to pay - shortstop Juan Castro knocked himself out of action for probably the next few days when he strained his left knee sliding into an unusually slippery home plate in the sixth inning.
The other good news was the right-hander Joey Hamilton (1-1) pitched well enough to earn his first National League win since 1998. But you had to look quickly, or you would've missed it - Reds manager Bob Boone lifted Hamilton for a pinch hitter in the sixth, an inning in which the Reds scored four runs to all but nail down the victory. At the time, Hamilton had allowed just two hits while throwing all of 71 pitches.
The strategy paid off, though, as D.T. Cromer singled in another run, and four relievers protected the lead for Hamilton. Hamilton, a free agent at season's end, likely will sign with the Reds at a reduced rate and compete for a starting spot in spring training.
Publication date: 09-26-01
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