My first memory of Ken Jr.—J.R., I sometimes call him—is that he was a big kid, seven pounds, 10 ounces at birth, but solid muscle. He had no baby fat on him. Most newborns have fat legs, but his legs had definition even then.
He was an uncoordinated kid because he grew so fast and his knees always hurt, but he loved to watch me hit. When I was playing minor league ball in Canada and Junior was about three, he'd play Wiffle Ball under the outfield stands. When he heard my name announced, he'd climb a ledge to watch. All I could see was this little head peeking over the fence in the rightfield corner.
On days when we had a father-son game, he'd be so excited he would wake up at 6 a.m. to put on his little Reds uniform. It would be dirty by 8. My wife, Birdie, might have to wash that uniform three times before the game started at 5 or 6 p.m. Before long he was starring in those games, but no more so than than his younger brother, Craig, or Eduardo Perez—Tony's kid—or Pedro Borbon Jr.
Every Father's Day I gave Craig and Junior $5 each to buy me a gift. They'd spend $3 on themselves and $2 on me, which is how it should be, and for about 11 years in a row I got underwear from Craig and Old Spice aftershave from Junior. I never could stand the smell of Old Spice! I guess that's why I found seven unopened bottles of the stuff in a closet last year. Some were empty—the aftershave had evaporated over the years.
Birdie was the disciplinarian in the Griffey house. When J.R. started coming of age and doing things he shouldn't—like the time he "borrowed" his grandmother's car while she was asleep—he'd get sent to me. I'd give him a good talking-to, then take him under the stands at Yankee Stadium and throw him batting practice. That's where he really learned to play the game.
I don't feel overshadowed by him. He had shortcuts—like my teaching him how to hit, how to turn on the ball, how to stay out of slumps—and while my career may not get me into the Hall of Fame, how many guys can say they hit .296 over 19 years and played on two World Series winners? I wouldn't trade my career for anything.
Now that I'm the Reds' bench coach, I catch Junior's games on the satellite dish. If he's doing something wrong, I'll call the Mariners' clubhouse and have one of the guys there tell him what to do. Then I'll watch and see him change his swing the next time up.
I know he'll call me this Sunday. He has never forgotten to call on Father's Day. We'll talk about the grandkids—his kids, Trey and Taryn. I don't expect a Father's Day gift, though. Now that he's a dad, it's his day. But I will make sure that Junior gets a present. I'm telling Trey and Taryn to get him some Old Spice.