SEATTLE — Ken Griffey Jr. was driving through the nation's heartland on the second day of his journey away from baseball life and toward his family in Florida. And the Mariners' now-retired slugger felt liberated.
His own father could sense that.
"One thing I noticed yesterday when I talked to him while he was driving home, he sounds very happy. It was kind of a relief," Ken Griffey Sr. said Friday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Dayton, Ohio, where he is in his first season as a hitting coach for the Class-A Dayton Dragons. "The biggest relief was him getting to go home and be with his family."
Senior, himself a former major league star with Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" of the 1970s and beyond, said Junior's pride was wounded when Seattle benched the slumping .184-hitter for most of his final two weeks.
The elder Griffey spoke to his son Thursday night as he drove through Kansas City. He believes that pride was part of the reason baseball's active leading slugger with 630 home runs and former AL MVP abruptly walked away from baseball in the middle of his 22nd season.
"He's got a lot of personal pride, OK? And you sit there and not get a chance to play and a week or 10 days go by … what kind of contribution can you give a team when you are not playing?" the elder Griffey said.
"He's just not going to sit there. He's got a lot of personal pride. He thought he could still contribute. … I mean, he doesn't have to prove anything to anybody."
Griffey started just once in his last 15 days with the Mariners. Manager Don Wakamatsu said Thursday it was "extremely" difficult to not write Griffey's name in the lineup.
But Wakamatsu also had to find production from his offense and particularly from the designated hitter spot, where Griffey had no home runs this season.
Seattle had expectations of its first postseason since 2001 this spring but was sinking while its anemic offense wasted great pitching. The Mariners were 12 games under .500 and 8 1/2 games out of first place in the AL West late last month, in danger of making the remainder of the season meaningless.
Five-time All-Star Mike Sweeney took over the primary DH duty and hit six home runs in 11 games while Griffey sat. Seattle entered Friday's series opener against the Angels six games out and on a three-game winning streak.
"Going into spring training, he figured he would get 300 at-bats, something of that nature — 300-400 at-bats," Griffey Sr. said.
But Junior's surgically repaired knee was not as good as he thought it was. His swing looked slow. When he didn't produce into late May, he didn't play and became far less of the clubhouse presence he was in his return to Seattle last year.
His father said Griffey "seems to be happy with how he handled" his exit: a quiet departure with only a short press release left behind.
"He didn't want no whoo-de-doo. He'd rather be quiet. That's the way he's always been," Senior said. "To me, he told the Mariners, that's all he needed to do."
Griffey's agent, Brian Goldberg, was expecting to talk to Mariners president Chuck Armstrong on Friday about a possible date when Junior could return this season for a retirement ceremony in Seattle, something the team also wants.
Goldberg and Armstrong were also expected to explore a long-term role for Griffey that would begin in the near future with the team with which he broke into the majors as a teenager in 1989 and with which he became a star.
Goldberg said he doesn't envision Griffey being in uniform daily as a coach, "at least not initially."
Neither does Junior's dad.
"He could probably make a pretty good coach, but I don't know that he wants to," said Senior, who still cherishes having been a Mariners teammate of his son's in 1990 and '91. "Probably a consultant with the team, I could see him doing that."
His father said Griffey "loves to give opinions" but would hate to be away from his family as a full-time coach during the season.
Senior lives five minutes from Junior, in Winter Gardens, Fla. Now, dad's the one gone from home, while his son waits for him to come home after baseball season.
"Yeah, now I'll be seeing him all the time," his father said with a hearty laugh.