Griffey a hit with Korean team
By Marc Lancaster / Post staff reporter
SARASOTA, Fla. - Before he departed for the World Baseball Classic near the end of February, Jung Keun Bong had a little exchange with Ken Griffey Jr. in the Reds' clubhouse.
Griffey threatened to lay down a bunt on Bong the first time he faced him in the event, if that came to pass. They both got a good laugh out of it, but it never came to pass. Griffey did, however, impress Bong and his countrymen the day the United States and Korea played in Anaheim, Calif., last week.
"They were introducing all the players before the game and Junior was waiting in line and Junior did a bow, Korean-style," Bong recounted Tuesday, his first day back in camp. "A lot of the Korean guys were surprised, because that means he respected Korea. Everybody was nice to him and Junior was very nice to us."
Griffey went 3-for-4 with a homer that day, but Korea claimed a 7-3 victory that helped prevent the U.S. from reaching the semifinals.
"We never thought about winning, we just wanted to play with the USA team," said Bong. "Before the game, we had a meeting - 'Hey, we've got to face the best team ever, so don't try (too) hard, just have fun.' "
Korea ended up losing to eventual champion Japan in the semis, the third meeting between the arch-rivals in the WBC. Korea had won the first two, one of them played in Tokyo.
"In Asia, it's always a competition with Japan, it's always a very, very serious game," said Bong. "I'll never forget that game."
The left-hander didn't get much work while playing for his country, pitching just 2 2/3 innings in three relief appearances. But he said the workouts in between have him in good shape entering the season.
Bong likely will be sent to minor league camp shortly, but Narron said he'd like to get the pitcher into a game or two in the next few days.
"If I go to Triple-A, I'll be ready," said Bong, who made one appearance all of last season because of shoulder and hand injuries. "I'm in good shape, I'm ready to throw a lot of innings."
UNACCOUNTED FOR - While the Reds' top pitching prospect, Homer Bailey, has raised his profile with a strong showing this spring, a young hurler not far behind in ability has disappeared altogether.
Right-hander Rafael Gonzalez, 20, rated by Baseball America as the sixth-best prospect (and No. 3 pitcher) in the organization, has been gone from camp for a couple of weeks. The Reds understand he has gone home, but they haven't heard from him since the day earlier this month that team officials found Gonzalez's locker had been cleaned out overnight.
"One morning, all his stuff was gone," said Johnny Almaraz, the Reds' player development director. "He's home in New York dealing with personal problems which have impacted a lot of decisions he's made here. We're empathetic and sympathetic towards that, but it's pretty tough to try to help somebody when there's no communication."
Gonzalez was the Reds' fourth-round pick in the 2004 draft out of George Washington High School in the Bronx. Scouts that saw him in the Gulf Coast League later that summer raved about his stuff, which Baseball America rates as second only to Bailey's in the organization.
"He's a player who's got a major league arm, but lacks discipline," said Almaraz.
Gonzalez split last season between Billings (3-0, 3.43 ERA in 42 innings) and Dayton (3-5, 9.35 ERA in 26 innings). He probably would have started this season at Dayton, but the Reds aren't sure what to make of the situation now.
"We're waiting to hear from him, see where he's at in his personal life, see if he has some type of resolution to his problems," said Almaraz. "We'll always welcome him with open arms, if and when he is ready to make a commitment."