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Griffey welcomed home after milestone

Griffey welcomed home after 600th

CINCINNATI -- Only a couple of hours after he hit career home run No. 600 in South Florida on Monday, Ken Griffey Jr. said he had 72 text messages and 18 voice mail messages of congratulations waiting for him on his cellphone.

Griffey and the team returned home at 3 a.m. ET on Tuesday morning and the show of affection hadn't stopped the day after 600 cleared the fence.

"There are a lot of people that have still been calling," Griffey said on Tuesday while back at Great American Ball Park. "My phone bill will be a little more expensive this month."

Once Griffey went deep in the first inning on Monday night, the crowd at Dolphin Stadium greeted him with a standing ovation. Earlier on the road trip in Philadelphia, fans that normally treat visiting players with total contempt and vitriol, were on their feet with applause when he narrowly missed No. 600 at Citizens Bank Park.

What was Griffey's expectation of how his feat would be received in Cincinnati? He kept expectations low.

"I don't even worry about it," he said. "The people in Philly were awesome. The people in Miami were great. It's a love-hate relationship here. I understand that. I go out and play as hard as I can. The only thing I haven't been able to do in this town is stay as healthy as I would like to. That's just the bottom line."

Fans did shower lots of affection on Griffey, who received loud ovations when his name was announced during pregame lineups and when he took his right field position at the start of the game. Before the bottom of the first inning, a video showed him hitting his 600th homer on the scoreboard as the crowd offered a standing ovation. Griffey came to the top step of the dugout and lifted his helmet in appreciation. Fans rose again when the 38-year-old batted in the first.

The Reds also showed their appreciation Tuesday morning by hanging a giant 54-foot color banner of Griffey on the stadium near the main entrance. A more complete pregame celebration was planned to honor the right fielder on June 17.

Because it was already Joe Nuxhall Night at the ballpark, the club decided not to have the two local icons share the spotlight. Nuxhall was posthumously honored with a street named after him.

"Ken Griffey Jr.'s 600th home run last night confirms what an elite athlete he is," Reds owner Bob Castellini told fans at the Nuxhall Way dedication ceremony. "We look forward to celebrating him a week from today."

"Joe is a big part of this city, not just Hamilton County or Nuxhall County as everybody called it," Griffey said. "This is his day. I'm glad I could be a part of it. Today is his day and his family's day. I'll be more than happy to take a backseat to that."

Griffey said the significance of being one of only six players in history to hit 600 career home runs hasn't sunk in yet.

"It won't hit me until after I have a couple of days, maybe at home in the offseason, when I can think about it at home," Griffey said. "Today is another game. We have to go out there and do it again. That's the difference from other sports. You don't have those days off to think about it. It probably won't hit me until October."

It hasn't taken that long for the magnitude of the moment to spread around the game. Among those following Griffey's milestone was Cubs manager Lou Piniella.

"I'm really proud of Junior," said Piniella, who managed Griffey in Seattle. "It's a great achievement. I really enjoyed the years I spent with him in Seattle. Let's hope he sticks around and gets another 100. When I had him in Seattle, he was the best player in baseball in my opinion, and that was when Barry Bonds was in his prime, also. That's a pretty strong statement. Junior was a special player."

Throughout his pursuit of 600, Griffey was often praised for being a player that did it right and was never sucked into the cloud of performance-enhancing drug allegations. To him, however, he believes that he's been grouped in with the steroids backlash.

"I still get the 'in your era,' which is upsetting," Griffey said. "I wish we could get this all behind us. There are some great young hitters that are coming up, from [Chase] Utley to [Ryan] Howard to Prince [Fielder] to [Ryan] Braun. We should let it go and move on and let them get the credit they deserve. We've got some great young ballplayers coming up and we should really concentrate on those guys.

"I understand what's going on and what people think. To me, 600 is 600."

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

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