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Wednesday, February 24, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Junior Takes Pokes As M's Camp Opens -- Targets Include Tardy A- Rod, Japanese Star

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

PEORIA, Ariz. - At the start of one of the more extraordinary days at Mariner camp in years, the Japanese showed up and Alex Rodriguez didn't - arriving from Los Angeles 90 minutes late.

Ken Griffey Jr., however, was his usual self - needle-sharp humor in overdrive.

"I know why A-Rod is late," the outfielder said. "His entourage is outside trying to get his limo through the door."

David Segui, Rodriguez's closest friend on the team, suggested, "visa problems."

For a while, it was a mystery. Rodriguez in the past was one of the earliest attendees, coming in with pitchers and catchers and joining former teammate Joey Cora for daily dawn-patrol infield practices.

When Rodriguez hurried into an empty clubhouse yesterday, he explained he wasn't able to fly out of Los Angeles, where he had been filming a commercial, until 7 a.m., and hadn't considered the hour time difference.

"Is the skipper mad?" Rodriguez asked. "Am I in trouble?"

The skipper cut the kid some slack.

"The only concern anyone had when he was not here on time," Lou Piniella said, "was that he was all right. This wasn't like him."

But Griffey was pure Griffey, from the moment he showed up, hours before the workout began.

He first checked out the lockers he could see from his spot, and spied a No. 82 above that of minor-league infielder Earl Johnson. "We got an 82?" Griffey said. "Baseball doesn't have an 82. The only 82 I knew was John Stallworth (the former Pittsburgh Steeler receiver)."

He watched Butch Huskey approach and made fun of his size, getting down in a three-point stance, glove tucked in his elbow like a football.

"Let me see if I can get past this linebacker," Griffey said, launching himself into Huskey's midsection.

Huskey stopped him cold, but let him go quickly.

The way the lockers are set up in the Mariner clubhouse, those of Ichiro Suzuki, the five-time Japanese batting champ, and Griffey are back-to-back.

At one point, Griffey peeked around the corner, saw Suzuki and welcomed him. The two greeted with mutual respect, but Griffey couldn't play it straight for long.

"Tell Ichiro," he said to interpreter Ted Heid, a Seattle native who moved to Arizona, "after practice . . . sake."

Suzuki looked shocked.

"No sake," Suzuki was able to say in English.. "No drink."

He then spoke in Japanese and Heid told Griffey, "He thought you didn't drink."

"I don't," Griffey said. "But after our workout, he might."

Suzuki said he did not wear his cap backward in emulation of Griffey, whom he has said he would like to play alongside someday.

"He has his own clothing line. His brother designs," Heid translated. "On the back of the caps are ads that he wants people to see when he's on TV."

Back on his side of the locker row, Griffey called Edgar Martinez "Hector." He has called him that since Piniella mistakenly called Martinez by that name several years ago.

Jay Buhner came out of the training room and asked Griffey, "How are you?" Griffey responded "I'll be fine once I take my Andros . . ."

Griffey has been poking fun at the Androstenedione controversy since people started raising questions about Mark McGwire's use of the muscle-builder last year. A plastic bottle of the pills was the first thing he unpacked Monday and placed prominently on the shelf of his locker, where it will stay, unopened.

When the workout started, Griffey complained about the running - asking Piniella for a head start because he's the veteran in his group - but he did all the work as usual.

"I'll be fine once I take my Andros," he joked.

With his teammates having listened to Piniella, run and warmed up, Rodriguez showed up. It was 10:40. Piniella was upset only that no trainer was immediately available to stretch the shortstop so he could start his work.

Later in batting practice, Griffey, Suzuki and Rodriguez were together in the first group with Tom Lampkin and Carlos Guillen. Jamie Moyer looked strong pitching to them.

Griffey and Suzuki talked about their respective hitting mechanics.

Soon there was laughter. Suzuki explained later that Griffey said Suzuki's exaggerated front foot lift and swing is "a fullback," while his own more moderate stride into the ball is "a halfback."

Suzuki's only problem was the fit of his batting helmet.

"In Japan we use the metric system," said Hide Sueyoshi, the Mariner executive on loan from Suzuki's Orix club. "There is no exact equivalent measurement here."

Mariner President Chuck Armstrong came to batting practice, and Griffey bugged him to "negotiate a contract."

He pointed out that someone had placed a "For Sale" sign on his black Corvette convertible.

"I'm not selling that car," Griffey said. "It's a negotiating ploy, so I can tell them I need money so bad, I'm selling off my stuff."

The joke sign drew a real offer, from a fan who saw the car in the lot outside the Mariner clubhouse. Griffey told him the car was not for sale.

After the workout, Piniella said he liked Suzuki's swing. Suzuki said he liked the practice, holding two thumbs up.

Griffey was asked by the Japanese press if he shared Suzuki's dream of playing on the same team.

"It would make us a better team," he said. "It would put our chances up. I'd like to have him stay here and play alongside me."

Griffey was asked by a Seattle TV station his gut feeling for this season.

"Right now," he said, "the only thing my gut feels is hungry. Gotta go."

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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