By Doug Fernandes
SARASOTA — You approach Ken Griffey Jr., sitting in front of his locker, and your inquisitive compass points in one direction.
Baseball. You ask the Reds' right fielder about his new manager, Dusty Baker. You ask about his assault on 600 career home runs.
You ask what continues to motivate a 38-year-old who's accomplished what few before him have, and if winning a World Series remains his one unrealized goal.
Griffey provides answers, but the responses are muted, often fragmented, as though he's bored with the line of questioning.
"Every time I go somewhere, what do people want to talk about?'' he asks. "Baseball.''
It's probably always been this way, ever since Griffey first starred at Cincinnati's Moeller High School.
Baseball and Griffey. Griffey and baseball. Inextricably linked, a marriage of superstar and sport.
You try again. Surely hitting 600 home runs will mean something, won't it?
"That's not important,'' he says. "It's more important for everyone else outside this locker room. I don't go home thinking, 'Oh, man, I'm this, I'm that.'
"I got other stuff I got to worry about.''
You have an idea what this other stuff is. So you change course, put down the baseball questions and pick up the ones assured to spark the discussion.
You ask about Griffey's children -- Trey, age 14; Taryn, age 12; Tevyn, age 5.
It works. Junior, often engaging, is now engaged.
"It ain't about me,'' he says. "It's about the relationship I have with my kids, that's the most important thing. Because there's not a whole lot of people who have that.
"Baseball is, yes, a small part of my life. But my kids are going to be with me through my whole life. As a dad, I owe it to them to be there as much as possible.''
Following that afternoon's game, Griffey will drive to Tampa. Taryn is playing there in an AAU basketball game.
"When I'm a fan, I sit away from everybody to watch my kid play. I'm like everybody else, my main focus is on them.''
The game before, the Reds played at night. Had it been a day game, Griffey would have showered afterward, dressed and driven to Orlando, his home, to watch Trey play a junior high basketball game.
"I would have watched the game,'' he says, "driven back and got back around 1:30.''
A superior baseball talent, Griffey might be a more exceptional father.
And not just with his own children. Several days ago, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an Ohio child suffering from cancer got to visit Sarasota, watch a Reds' game and spend some time with Griffey.
Ten or 15 minutes probably would have satisfied the child.
Griffey stayed two hours.
During the season, arranging family time can be tough. If Griffey is playing in a city with familial ties, he'll have his three children and wife, Melissa, join him.
It's during the offseason when these bonds are strengthened. On Saturdays, the kids play football or basketball, and a member of the Griffey clan -- either Junior, his wife, his mom, dad or brother -- will be on hand.
"There's going to be a section of Griffeys somewhere,'' he says.
But Sundays are for golf. Or paintball. Or bowling. Or tennis. Or go-karts.
All of it, all in the family.
"There's not a day when we're like, 'Aahhh,''' he says. "Usually I pick the event. They know I'm going to win. I always pick sports I know I'm going to win.''
Such as paintball. And why shouldn't Griffey win? He paid $2,000 for his gun.
Actually, his children all have the same gun. Melissa included.
"Just that her's is pink,'' he says.
The object of paintball is to capture the flag, usually hung in the middle of the course.
That's the usual objective. Just not Junior's objective. Or Taryn's.
"No, we try to eliminate everybody,'' he says. "We don't even go for the flag.''
Go-karts might be the children's favorite activity. That's because dad doesn't always take home the checkered flag.
"Only because their go-karts are lighter,'' he says. "My car is faster. I have my own car. We all do.''
If Junior paid $2,000 for a paintball gun, how much did he fork over for his go-kart, which is brought to the track on a trailer?
So to Ken Griffey Jr.'s kids, he's dad. But when they're around Ken Griffey Jr., future Hall of Famer, at least two of them know the drill.
"The two older ones understand what I've done,'' he says, "but the youngest one, he's like, 'Why are they looking at you like that? Why are they having you sign that?
"'And why are you messing up my time?'"
Don't worry, Tevyn.
Guaranteed, daddy will make it up.