At the request of the Spirit's management, Ken moves to the radio booth in the sixth inning to comment on his son's next at bat. He's introduced to the crowd and greeted with loud cheers. With the spotlight intensified, Kenny strikes out.
Being a big leaguer's son carries burdensome expectations, and being a No. 1 pick and the star of one's team, despite being younger than everyone else on the roster by more than two years, doesn't lighten the load. Kenny eases the stress by acting like the teenager he is. Says Cameron, "Before he went down to spring training I told him, 'Kenny, you've got to get serious, this is a great opportunity to make a nice living.' He looked like he was listening hard. Then he said, 'I can't wait to get there. I'm going to get in a pillow fight.' "
The Mariners will suffer Kenny's immaturity for now, but Alberta won't. When she flew from Cincinnati to Bellingham to visit him last season, he was in a slump that left him batting .230. "When I can't hit, that's when I want to quit," he says. Worse, he was on the bench for violating curfew. "The night before I left, I gave it to him up one side and down the other," says Alberta. "He didn't call me for four days." Kenny then reestablished contact with his family—and with the baseball, batting .450 for the rest of the season.
By the bottom of the eighth, the Spirit is ahead 9-5. Seattle has stacked this team with hot prospects, hoping it would win and thereby build winning attitudes. Kenny's teammates enjoy regaling Griffey Sr. about his son's most recent herculean homers. George DeLange, the club's chairman of the board, is telling the father what a fine young boy he has when Kenny steps up with two out and no one on. He's in his fourth stance of the game and using his third bat. On one swinging strike, he looses his top hand in an unspoken tribute to his dad. Then, on a 3-2 pitch, it is indeed Griffey time.
With a looping stroke, he launches an outside fastball into a high arc toward leftfield. The Palm Springs leftfielder drifts back, back, but he has no hope as the ball disappears beyond a clump of eucalyptus trees more than 400 feet from the plate. In the press box, DeLange punches Ken in the shoulder, but the older Griffey is too stunned to notice. Through a hand held over his mouth he mutters, "Did you see how far that ball went?" As Kenny rounds the bases, he cackles to himself, as if to say, "Aha, I did it!" When he crosses the plate, he points a triumphant and taunting index finger at the old man.
After the game, the Griffeys and four of Kenny's teammates, whom Ken is more than happy to entertain with major league tales, go out to eat. On the way to the restaurant, Kenny calls Alberta from his car—it's 2 a.m. Cincinnati time—and gives her the details of his 3-for-5 night, getting a jump on another $600 phone bill. Three hours later, when he returns to his Los Angeles hotel, Ken wakes his wife again, with his first scouting report on a Mariner phenom they both know. "Bertie, I saw something from him in all five categories [hitting, hitting for power, running, throwing and fielding]," he says. "It doesn't make sense for someone to have that much talent."
Next time the father and son talk, Kenny offers to lend his dad a few hits. Ken threatens to ground him. For the kid, there's a little time left before he has to get serious. "I haven't been yelled at enough for it not to be fun yet," he says. At the end of last week he was hitting .371 with 20 RBIs and leading the California League with six homers. For the dad, who was still slumping but had raised his average to .196, there will be time to catch up. "Enjoyment," says Ken. "That's what I feel watching him. Enjoyment."