Griffey plays with a heavy heart

Griffey plays with a heavy heart

CINCINNATI -- Manager Dusty Baker tried to do a favor for Reds right fielder Ken Griffey Jr. by keeping him out of Monday's lineup vs. the Cubs.

Griffey learned a few hours earlier that his best friend, Frank King, died at the age of 38 in Orlando, Fla., after a long battle with rectal cancer. But when he saw his name missing from Baker's lineup card and Corey Patterson batting second, Griffey made a bee-line to the manager's office.

"I'm going to go talk to him about that right now," Griffey said.

By the time Griffey had left Baker's office, he had talked himself back into the order and was hitting second again.

"I figured he wouldn't be spiritually or mentally in the state of mind to really concentrate and focus to play," Baker said. "I remember just talking to the guys [in a team meeting Sunday]. One of the things was to play for somebody sick or somebody who's family or ailing. Junior said that's what his friend would have wanted him to do. I remember the same thing happened to Barry Bonds in San Francisco. His best friend died. I think Barry ended up playing, too, for the sake of his friend."

King, who grew up in Cincinnati, was a friend of Griffey's since childhood. He moved to Orlando when the Griffeys relocated there. King is survived by his wife and their two children, ages 14 and 3.

"Everyone's asking me if I'm all right," Griffey said. "I worried about them. [My wife] Melissa, my mom and Frank's wife were with him."

Griffey entered Monday batting .228 with four home runs and 15 RBIs this season. He was 5-for-32 (.156) during the just completed nine-game road trip. Sixth on the all-time home run list, the 38-year-old has been stuck at 597 career home runs since April 23.

"It's a big deal to play for your friend, a huge deal," Baker said.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.