Monday, April 03, 2000

Grandma Griffey a quiet hero

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ken Griffey Jr.'s grandmother is a maybe for Opening Day.

        She wants to see her grandson play in the town where he grew up. And, she knows this is a very special Opening Day for him. He's playing his first regular-season game as a Cincinnati Red.

        But, she hasn't been feeling well lately. So, her status for today's big game is questionable.

        “I'll do my best to come,” Ruth Griffey told me. “But I'm not feeling my best.

        “Still, people keep telling me: "You just gotta go. Especially because of what Kenny said about you.'”

        Ken Griffey Jr. told the world he loves the woman he calls Grandma.

        What he said about this woman speaks to the strength of family ties. They stretch across great expanses and keep distant hearts close. They help people strive for success while reminding them to value loved ones over the love of money. And, they offer ample reasons to come home.

        The night he was traded to the Reds and signed a contract for less than he could get on the open market, Junior spoke at a packed Cinergy Field press conference. He said he came home so he could play in front of a certain lady who lives in College Hill.

        “She's only seen me play three or four times,” he said. “Now, she can see me every night. I owed that to my grandmother.”

        Ruth Griffey did not hear him say that. She skipped the press conference and did not watch the news that night.

        She was in favor of Junior's coming home. But she was not crazy about the trade.

        “I just thought he should have stayed with the team where he was in Seattle. Most of his baseball playing was there. But it's up to him to do what he wants. And it looks like he feels better here. He's smiling more.”

        Ruth Griffey's still smiling over what her grandson said about her at that press conference.

        “I'm glad he thought that much of me,” she said. “It made me feel very proud.”

        Pride is very dear to Grandma Griffey. She's proud of what her grandson and his father, Ken Griffey Sr., have accomplished in the big leagues. She's quick to add that she's proud of all her grandchildren and children.

        “I have lots of grandbabies and six children,” she said. “Each one gets treated the same. That's why Kenny and his dad turned out to be so regular.

        “Nothing special is done for one or the other. I just love them all.”

        Ruth Griffey values her privacy almost as much as she does her pride. One condition of our conversation was no face-to-face chats. She spoke by phone from her College Hill home.

        Another condition: No pictures.

        “I don't want anyone knowing what I look like,” she said. “If people know too much about me, I may have to move out of town.”

        Ruth Griffey wants you to know she's from Frankfort. As a girl, she spent summers in Cincinnati. She'd stay with a sister who had a beauty shop at Peebles Corner in Walnut Hills.

        She was a working mom, raising six children. “I worked in hospitals and the like. Not as a nurse. I just worked. Nothing fancy. Nothing great. Just making a living.”

        She's uncomfortable wearing any trappings of celebrity. Once, when she was in the post office, she met a former co-worker. The woman had her grandson with her. She introduced him to “Kenny Griffey's grandma.” The boy acted as if he were in a trance. He stared at Ruth Griffey. His mouth hung open. He wanted her autograph. But he was too shocked to speak.

        Good thing he didn't ask for her signature. Ruth Griffey doesn't give autographs. Not that she thinks she's too good. Or that she's standoffish.

        “I don't play baseball,” she explained. “I'm not famous. Give me one good reason why anyone would want my autograph.”

        I can give her three. She raised six children and worked hard all her life. She treats her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren equally. She loves them all.

        To me, she's a quiet hero. Every family with a success story has someone like her. These special people work quietly behind the scenes to keep their families together. Love is their signature.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

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