The greatest father-son duo in baseball, Ken Griffey Sr., 66, and Ken Griffey Jr., 46, have teamed up again to raise awareness for prostate cancer with MenWhoSpeakUp.com. But anytime the two get together, stories start flying out of the park as far and fast as the 782 home runs they combined to hit during two remarkable baseball careers that spanned from 1973 to 2010.
Senior, what were some of the warning signs leading up to your prostate cancer diagnosis?
Senior: Well, the biggest thing is the PSA (Prostate-specific antigen). I took the PSA and my PSA was real high, so I went to another doctor. I had like three doctors that I went to. But it was a situation where, I had four uncles that passed with prostate cancer, and there were four brothers and myself in my family. We knew we had a family history of prostate cancer, and my mother made sure we were aware of it, and we talked about it constantly in my house, and later on I got a chance to talk to Junior about the situation with him and getting him checked and all that.
The diagnosis of the symptoms is a little different when you get advanced prostate cancer. I didn’t get to chemo because I was diagnosed early. The symptoms with advanced are you are slower with normal activities and you’re taking painkillers and you’re wondering why you’re taking them every day.
It’s something when you go to your doctor you have to talk about. A lot of men do not talk about prostate cancer; it’s a macho-type thing, they don’t want to talk about it because it’s embarrassing. We gotta do it ourselves, and have to get men to the point where they speak up about prostate cancer, the website is MenWhoSpeakUp.com, there you can find out about all the resources for advanced prostate cancer.
How difficult was it to speak with your family about your diagnosis?
Senior: It wasn’t that difficult, the funny part was my wife and I were both diagnosed with cancer the same week, and she was diagnosed with colon cancer and I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I tried to make it easier for Junior, because he was still playing I didn’t want him to be mentally beat up and start thinking about other things instead of playing baseball. I only told him one half of the story, he’ll tell the other side, but I only told him one half so he made sure his mom was okay, and I told him I would be alright because I was diagnosed early.
Did it make it better or worse that you and your wife were dealing with that at the same time?
Senior: Well, it was kind of shocking for both of us, to be honest with you. We both found out the same week that we had cancer so it was kind of shocking on both sides. I was upset because she had gotten diagnosed, and she felt the same way when she found out I had been diagnosed with cancer. It was a tough scenario, and we were just trying to make sure Junior was okay, so I explained a lot of things to him about his mom’s condition and I didn’t say too much about mine, then he found out from his mother that I had it. He was a little upset about that because I didn’t say too much until I saw him a couple weeks later.
Junior, how did you deal with the news of your mother and father being diagnosed?
Junior: It was tough. You have one mom and one dad and they both get diagnosed, and you’ve got a dad trying to protect his son saying, “Worry about your mom, don’t worry about me.” It’s your parents, and you hear the word “cancer” and it makes it tough. But I was able to see him two weeks later, when he showed up I was able to get three hits. But during that time baseball wasn’t high on my priority list.
Since prostate cancer runs in your family, is there anything you are doing personally to prevent or at least detect the disease early?
Junior: Yearly physicals and things like that. Making sure that (sons) Trey and Tevin, but Trey mainly, who’s 23, understands what’s going on and try to spread the word and speak up.
Tell me about MenWhoSpeakUp.com…
Senior: What we’re trying to do is get people to talk about prostate cancer, especially men. Because a lot of times it can be the toughest thing for men to do. We have everyone talking about breast cancer for women and that’s a big campaign for them, but we need men to speak up about it so they can get a better idea and better resources. If they go onto the website, MenWhoSpeakUp.com, they’ll know more about what’s going on in their transition, and will really talk to their doctors if they are slowing down with normal activities, and just put themselves out there so they’ll understand what’s happening.
Let’s talk a little baseball. Maybe the coolest father-son moment in sports history came in 1990, when you two hit back-to-back home runs as Seattle Mariners teammates. What do you remember about that night?
Senior: The back-to-back homers was a situation where I already hit mine first. I didn’t think that much of it, but (Mariners teammate) Harold (Reynolds) says, “You know if he hits a home run it’ll be the first time a father and son ever hit a home run together.” I said, “You gotta be kidding.” I wasn’t thinking that way.
Then I thought it would be impossible when he had a 3-0 count. I figured (Angels pitcher) Kirk McCaskill was gonna walk him, but then he takes a sinker and hits it out of left field and the rest is history. He was so excited when he got to me, he was probably more excited about that home run than all of the other home runs he hit his whole career.
We had a great time with it. I enjoyed myself playing with him. I found out what type of player he really was, because of the fact I didn’t see him play that much. All I heard from Seattle was, “This kid, this kid, this kid.” And when I got a chance to play with him I understood what they were talking about.
What’s your memory of that night, Junior?
Junior: Not embarrassed to say, as a son you always want to get validation from your dad. He touched home plate and he said, “That’s how you do it, son.” As he gets older his story seems to vary and change.
Senior: My story stays consistent. With everything I said. He knows that (my home run) went further. He knows that. I hit mine to left centerfield, his just went down the line.
Junior: His went further. Mine went out faster.
Senior: Because you hit it to the shortest side of the field! You only hit it 310. Mine went over 450.
Junior: C’mon man! It didn’t go 450.
Senior: What do you mean it didn’t go 450?
Junior: It didn’t go 450.
Senior: You’re trying to tell me I’m telling a fib, man.
Junior: You have fabricated this story.
Senior: Being 66, I can say anything I want and it’ll be the truth.