Commentary

A different kind of love

Despite famous last name, Trey Griffey chooses to blaze his own path

Originally Published: January 2, 2012
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN RecruitingNation

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- We remember the sweet swing, the leaping catches in center field, the towering home runs, but none of it defined the prodigious baseball career of Ken Griffey Jr. more than his smile.

As a 19-year-old rookie in 1989 or a future Hall of Fame retiree just 19 months ago, when Griffey wore a baseball uniform, he had fun.

His love for the game was genuine. It's what made him strive for greatness, he said.

[+] EnlargeTrey Griffey
Davide De Pas for ESPN.comTrey Griffey could have played baseball like his father, Ken Griffey Jr., but he decided to do his own thing and has made it to the Under Armour All-America Game.
Look closely this week as the White team practices for the Under Armour All-America Game (7:30 p.m. ET, Thursday on ESPN), and there's that smile again.

Wide receiver Trey Griffey grew to 6-foot-2, about the same height as dad, and Trey's leaping grabs and his long stride on a post route resemble Junior as he chased down flies in Seattle and Cincinnati.

Trey even inherited his father's left-handed batting stance. But the younger Griffey -- tabbed a baseball star from birth -- quit the sport six years ago.

Why?

He didn't feel the love. In this family, it's about passion. Griffey Jr. preached a lesson to his three children that Trey, the oldest, couldn't comprehend until recently. Still, something inside the young Griffey guided him to act as his dad wanted.

"He tells us that as long as we're having fun, he's happy," Trey said. "It doesn't matter what sport you play, as long as you love it. Because if you don't love it, what's the point of playing?"

And here's what Trey Griffey realized: He loves football.

"Baseball will always be in my genes," Trey said. "I'll always know a lot about it because of my father and grandfather. But I don't really have the love for it that I do for football."

Like his dad before, the passion is genuine. It's a Griffey thing, said his mother, Melissa Griffey, and she would know: She's been married to Ken for 19 years.

"It's hard to compare Ken to anyone," she said, "and that's not fair. But Trey is a great athlete in his own right. And he has this love of football. You can't deny it."

A senior at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla., Trey, despite his undeniably recognizable last name, has flown largely under the radar in recruiting. While teammates here choose between dozens of top programs, Trey looks at Michigan State, Washington State and Iowa State as his only BCS-level scholarship options.

"Whoever gets him," Griffey Jr. said, "they're going to get a steal."

Scenes from the opening day of practice at the ESPN Wide World of Sports back that prediction. Trey stood out with several athletic receptions of deep balls from White quarterbacks Jameis Winston, Zach Kline and Tanner Mangum.

Several factors contribute to his status as a relative unknown. Griffey transferred to Dr. Phillips before his senior season, reuniting with quarterback Nick Patti, a Boise State recruit and former Pop Warner teammate, after three seasons at West Orange High School in nearby Winter Garden, Fla.

Griffey Jr. said he was dissatisfied with the exposure Trey received at West Orange.

"Whether it's my kid or anyone else's," Griffey Jr. said, "I feel everyone should have the opportunity to go to [college]. Being that I played at a high level, I know how big that break can be if somebody may see you.

"Without that, it made it tough, so we made a decision to switch."

Trey grew late, too, and his coordination progressed at a rate behind many of the top receivers nationally. But he blossomed in tandem with Patti this season, catching 72 passes for 970 yards and 11 touchdowns.

"We do things differently than other schools around here," Dr. Phillips coach Rodney Wells said. "We're not going to be outworked. Coming over from West Orange, we didn't know what we were getting with Trey, but we never had a problem. He's one of the most humble and hard-working kids that we've had."

Patti described Trey as "an unbelievable athlete."

"He's a lot like his dad in that he's very long and rangy," said Patti, an overachiever himself as one of the nation's most productive quarterbacks at 5-foot-10. "He's got a lot of untapped athleticism, too, lot of room to grow."

Trey said he views the experience at the Under Armour Game as a chance to get noticed. Though he could likely walk on at the program of his choice, he wants to attend a school that makes a commitment to him, too.

"You never want to settle," he said, "and I'm not saying those options I have are bad. I enjoy those schools. But I want to see how many offers I can get."

More than anything, though, this week as an All-American to Trey is about an opportunity to do what a Griffey does best -- to play the game he loves.

[+] EnlargeTrey Griffey
Davide De Pas for ESPN.comGriffey, a receiver, has scholarship offers from Iowa State, Michigan State and Washington State.

Dealing with expectations

"I can't even imagine what baseball would be like for him with that name," Melissa Griffey said, "because football is difficult."

Griffey Jr. dealt with it, too, as the son of Ken Griffey Sr., a three-time All-Star who played 19 major league seasons.

"Nobody in this family puts on expectations," Griffey Jr. said. "The thing I care about is how you go out and play. Play hard. There's going to be good days and bad days. He is not his dad. I learned that from a young age. People feel they have a right to judge you because of past history.

"He's trying to make his own history."

Regardless, the expectations exist.

And at some level, no doubt, they contributed to Trey Griffey's move away from the sport his father loves. Melissa said she initially regretted Trey's decision to quit baseball.

"Our family plays baseball," she said.

On the other hand, Griffey Jr. was fine with his son's decision.

"I didn't have a problem," he said. "It's not owed to him to play baseball. He loves football. Hell, I love football."

Football runs in the family, too. Griffey Sr. considered the sport his first love, according to Griffey Jr., but passed on a college scholarship at Marshall to support his family with a baseball career.

Griffey Sr.'s father, Buddy Griffey, starred as an amateur athlete in Pennsylvania, and Griffey Jr.'s brother, Craig, played football at Ohio State before a baseball career.

The youngest Griffey, 9-year-old Tevin, plays football and baseball, and does it well, Trey said. Perhaps, he'll be the next great Griffey in baseball.

Trey, like his father, came of age in a baseball clubhouse. During Griffey Jr.'s time with the Reds from 2000 to 2008, Trey grew close to Deion Sanders Jr. and Shane Larkin, the son of All-Star shortstop Barry Larkin.

Sanders Jr. plays opposite Trey on the Black squad this week as a defensive back in the Under Armour Game. Trey remains even closer with the younger Larkin, who lives in Miami and often meets Trey online for late-night Xbox battles at Modern Warfare or Madden NFL Football.

Their bond is strengthened by the connection as sons of famous former athletes -- and the accompanying pressures.

But the benefits far outweigh the burden.

"I think of it as an honor to have that name and be his son," Trey said.

Those closest to Trey agree he handles it with grace. Simply put, he took Dad's advice and focused on fun.

"It's a hard name to live up to," said Patti. "But I think he's done a great job of putting it all aside and blazing his own path."

Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mshermanespn@gmail.com. Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman