Post-Griffey era begins for Reds
Club looks to move forward with solid core of young players
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
WASHINGTON -- The giant black trunk that Ken Griffey Jr. routinely used to store his equipment was gone from the Reds clubhouse Friday. His voice that cracked numerous jokes was missing and there wasn't a No. 3 jersey hanging in any locker.
"It's the end of the Griffey era," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
Indeed it was. The closest Reds players could get to seeing him on Friday was via television. They gathered around to watch Griffey's first press conference with the White Sox following his trade from Cincinnati on Thursday.
One of those intently watching was rookie Jay Bruce, who has taken the torch from Griffey symbolically. For Friday's game vs. the Nationals, and likely going forward, Bruce was batting third and playing right field. Both were Griffey's spots.
"I'm ready for everything that's about to happen," Bruce said. "I think that now it's a new era with Griff gone. He was the franchise since 2000. Now he's gone. It kind of starts a new time with the Reds. I'm ready for that. We have a great nucleus here. No matter what the record says, we have a good team. I'm just excited to be a piece of it."
Baker talked one-on-one with Bruce about the move to third in the lineup. The 21-year-old had most recently batted leadoff with Jerry Hairston Jr. out with an injury. Hairston was activated Friday and resumed leading off.
Bruce, who has batted third for most of his professional career, has struggled at times this season since his red-hot start. He's trying to show more plate discipline and wants to cut down on his strikeouts.
"I talked to him about what I require a third hitter to do," Baker said. "Without taking away his aggressiveness, he'll need to be a little more selective at the plate. Take your pitch. He batted third most of his life in the Minor Leagues. We'll see."
"I think I've hit third in two games in the big leagues," Bruce said. "No matter what, it's where I'm used to hitting. Obviously, with Ken being here, there was no question over who was batting third."
Baker planned to hold a team meeting before Friday's game to address how Griffey's trade transpired and what it means going forward.
"Everybody is probably wondering, it did happen rather quickly," Baker said. "This is the biggest trade I've ever been a part of in the middle of the season, and probably the last major, major trade like this was Hank Aaron [from the Braves to the Brewers]."
Obviously, dealing without Griffey is more than batting orders and right field for Cincinnati. The club has said goodbye to an iconic player and superstar that was one of the main faces of the franchise for nine years.
"All this time, it was Griffey and the Reds," second baseman Brandon Phillips said. "It was the best thing. He was the best player on this team and was here for so long. We're going to miss his face. We're going to miss his name."
Like Bruce, Phillips wouldn't mind accepting the responsibility of being front and center.
"It's not about what I want, it's about what the Reds want," Phillips said. "Of course, I want it to be my team. Regardless of what I do or what I say, it's really how they want to present it. It's all about promoting. We have a guy named Jay Bruce on this team. If they want it to be his team, it'll be his team. They're promoting it like it's his team, so they might as well say it's his team. If you want to keep it real, that's real talk. He's hitting third.
"Plus, it starts with you guys [in the media]. People read what you say. If you say 'Bruce Almighty,' they'll say 'We want to see Bruce.' It's the truth. When people see Griffey, it's 'The Kid,' and it's catchy. Griffey is the man. He still is the man."
Whether Phillips is "the man" going forward, he still credits Griffey for helping him grow as a player.
"I thank him for that," Phillips said. "I talked to him, and he told me to be myself and people will like me for who I am. I took that to heart. I want to be like Barry Larkin. That's my idol. It'd be nice to have a 'C' on my chest [like Larkin], but I don't think they're doing 'C's' anymore. It'd be nice to be a captain. A guy like Griffey -- his shoes are hard to fill. I'll make sure to step my game up even higher than what I'm doing right now. I think it's about that time."
Others will try to do likewise. Besides Bruce and Phillips, there are other younger players like Joey Votto, Edwin Encarnacion, Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto meshing with veterans Adam Dunn, Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo.
"It does create opportunity for somebody else," Baker said.
So what is this new Reds era called, anyway?
"I don't know," responded Baker. "The post-Griffey era."