WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - Walking out toward the batting cage at Ed Smith Stadium Friday, I noticed a familiar figure. Left-handed batter. Little waggle with the bat as he sets up. Beautiful, smooth stroke.
It was the first time this spring I saw Ken Griffey Jr. swing the bat. I haven't been avoiding him, and I don't think he's avoiding me.
But Griffey has been hard to find in the batting cage this spring. The broken hand that was supposed to be healed has kept him from playing in games and limited him to one session of live batting practice.
Griffey says he's done talking about when he'll be ready.
"Let's nip that in the bud," he said. "You'll see me out there when I'm out there."
The Reds say Griffey will be out there when he decides he's ready. "We're waiting for him to tell us," general manager Wayne Krivsky said. "He knows his body better than anyone. With the leg last year, we gave him the extra time and it turned out to be the prudent thing to do."
The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits team doctors or trainers from talking about a player's injury.
We know Griffey has taken cortisone shots. When he was talking about it, Griffey said it was just a matter of getting the hand, broken some time in December, stronger.
That was three weeks ago.
It should be noted that it's still early. The Reds have 19 exhibition games left. So there's more than enough time for Griffey to get ready.
But there seems to be more at work here than just the hand healing.
A conspiracy theorist might say Griffey is waiting to play so there's not enough time to experiment with switching him to right field.
Griffey's never embraced the idea of the switch.
He also has never rejected it outright.
And it still could happen. Switching from center field to right isn't like switching from second base to shortstop or from the infield to the outfield.
The responsibilities with center and right are nearly identical, but the ball comes off the bat with a different spin.
No one working for the Reds has said Griffey is delaying his return.
The right-field move probably is going to happen. Griffey has taken balls in right in workouts and during batting practice.
In fact, outfield coach Billy Hatcher stayed behind from the Winter Haven trip to work with the outfielders, including Griffey, on Saturday.
When the Reds originally talked about the plan, the flaw in it was that Ryan Freel, the center fielder-to-be, has a tendency to miss a lot of games with injuries.
Asking Griffey to play right one day and center the next might have been a bit much.
But the way Josh Hamilton has played in camp, the Reds can put him in center and be confident he'll make plays.
Again, Griffey could take the field today - either in right or in center - and be rolling by Opening Day.
He has done everything everyone else has done in camp - except for hitting.
And maybe it is just the hand holding him back.
He's 37 years old. Injuries don't heal as quickly when you're his age. Each of the last two years, he was day-to-day for nearly the entire month of September with foot injuries.
Last September, the Reds' offense fell off severely after Griffey's injury. The Reds hit .227 as a team with 23 home runs in September after hitting .253 with 48 homers in August.
So the key is having a healthy Griffey for as long as possible in the regular season.
If he's still playing in September, the time he missed in March won't matter.
But the whole thing seems just a little odd.