By MIKE KERN
The e-mail was sent to the Reds' Web site by a woman from New York, Katrina Marino. Her husband, Kenny, was a member of that city's fire department. Like many others, he lost his life in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers. And now, she had a favor to ask.
"Ken Griffey Jr. was my husband's favorite baseball player," Marino wrote yesterday. "If Ken Griffey Jr. could hit an extra home run for Ken, I know he will be looking down with a big grin."
The team's director of media relations, Rob Butcher, passed the request to Griffey before last night's game against the Phillies. And, leading off the top of the fourth, he lined a 1-0 pitch over the rightfield fence. It was his 21st homer of a forgettable season, and 459th of a very memorable career.
For him, few will ever mean more.
"It'll be in the top five," said Griffey, who's been honored for his work with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. "I've had a chance to meet kids, hang out with them, but this is special. You don't really think about the impact of being a baseball player. We just play a game. No matter what we do, that's all it is, a game.
"Everyone's lives have changed. My life's been changed. I don't know anyone's who hasn't. I'm glad that I could do something to help someone whose lives have really been changed by this disaster. To be able to do that, especially for a person who said I was his favorite player, this guy lost his life trying to save others. No matter what I do doesn't amount to anything [compared to that].
"I did it. I wasn't really thinking about it. I'm just glad I could make them smile."
Griffey, who would miss another homer by about 3 feet on a double to left-center in the seventh, intends to send the family the bat. The next time the Reds visit New York, he intends to meet with them.
"It'll be a private thing," he said, quietly. "I don't want a big show. I'd like to do it one-on-one. I don't believe in doing something just so I can see my name in the paper. But it'll feel good. I'll do it because I want to do it, not because someone tells me I need to. That's just me.
"Like the rest of this country, I'm just looking for a way to help. Maybe this was my small way. If you ask most guys in here if they wanted to play baseball last week, they would have said no. If you asked them to bus up to New York and do what they can, I bet every major league player would have said yes. It's only 11 hours from Cincinnati. Guys would have driven. They just wanted to do their part. That says a lot."
In the six games the Reds had played since baseball resumed, the future Hall of Famer was batting .190 (4-for-21), with 1 homer. The Phillies were the only team he'd never homered against. Sometimes, maybe it's just supposed to happen.
"Only God knows why," he said, shaking his head. "We just do what He says. He had me hit one out for that family.
"He could have picked any player to be his favorite. It just so happened it was me. And two weeks after [he died], they said, 'Hey, can you do something for him?' And I ended up doing it.
"I didn't think about it until I sat down [in the dugout]. I was just happy for the family."
Before last night, Griffey never even had a hit against the Phils. He took care of that with an infield single in the first that helped set up Cincy's first run. They would score seven more, knocking the Phils out of a tie for first place in the NL East. Griffey finished 3-for-4, with two RBI and three runs scored.
Griffey has been in pennant races before. This year, the Reds are merely completing the full 162 because the commissioner insisted. That doesn't mean they can't try to at least win a few more on the way to the golf course.
"Last year when we came here, I was 0-for-9 against these guys," Griffey said. "When I got that first hit out of the way, a couple of guys gave me hugs. I was just trying to get something started.
"[The Phillies] are going for something. We have a chance to be spoilers, in some ways. We want to finish on a strong note, no matter who we're playing. We want to go out there and play nine strong innings. They know how to come back. They're going to come out [tonight] ready to play, which will make it even tougher." *