The Moeller years: Coach reflects on Griffey Jr. in high school

Ken Griffey Jr.’s prep baseball career was marked by excellence, not length.

Griffey, who was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, graduated from Moeller High School in 1987. He was a two-year standout with the Crusaders because he chose not to play his first two years.

“At that time, he was going down to spring training, being with his dad as much as possible, and playing summer ball,” said Mike Cameron, who won 767 games and counts Griffey among 10 major leaguers he coached during his time as Moeller’s head man. “If he had played all four years, he probably could’ve had any of our hitting records.”

As it stands, the only career record Griffey holds at his alma mater is batting average (.478). His only other top 10 category is home runs (17, third).

The two years Griffey did play with the Crusaders were filled with highlights and glimpses of an individual who would become one of the top players in history.

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Cameron — 71 and still coaching at Moeller, where he’ll work with the junior varsity this spring — is like a proud father.

He was in Cooperstown in 2012 when 1982 Moeller graduate Barry Larkin went into the Hall of Fame, and he’ll be there in July when Griffey is inducted.

“We’ve already made reservations,” Cameron said. “We did that back in the summer, my wife and I, because we wanted to take our son and three grandsons up because they have never been to Cooperstown. We thought this would be a great opportunity and make a vacation out of it.

“I always felt pretty confident that Kenny would play in the majors. I couldn’t say that about any of the other players, even Barry. But I couldn’t foresee that Kenny would end up being a Hall of Fame talent.”

Griffey’s playing days at Moeller were special. The center fielder’s five-tool skill set had people routinely shaking their heads.

“He was very natural, very graceful. I think he hit some of the longest balls ever recorded,” Cameron said. “You could actually hear it in the stands, people going, ‘Oh, geezel,’ at what he would do at bat.

“Then in the field … I don’t think people really appreciated it because he made it look so natural. He wouldn’t have to make diving catches because he would just run balls down. He got incredible jumps and had an A-plus arm, especially for high school.”

Cameron remembers a fun-loving kid who was clear about his career goals.

“The worst thing you could do to Kenny is say, ‘I want you to keep your mouth shut and you can’t be around the other guys,’ because he loved his teammates. He loved to socialize with them,” Cameron said.

“To me, this is what sums up Ken Griffey as far as the way he saw himself. The situation was that I had been getting a lot of inquiries from the pros about his health and what type of personality he had, so I had pretty much daily contact with Ken his senior year.

“I remember I stopped and said, ‘Kenny, we have never discussed this. We know about the professional part of it, but are you interested in college? Because I’m sure all we’ve got to do is get on the phone and you could name the college, and I’m sure they would pick up.’

“He turned and looked at me, and he thought that was the strangest question I could ever ask. He said, ‘Coach, I was born to play baseball.’ It wasn’t bragging. It was just like a lawyer’s son saying, ‘Hey, I think I’ll be a lawyer.’ I thought, ‘My gosh, this kid’s smarter than all of us. He’s knows where he’s been gifted, and that’s what he’s going to do.’ ”

Some facts from Griffey’s high school years:

• He homered a school-record three times in a 1987 game against Fairmont. He shares the record for most runs scored in a game (five against La Salle in 1986) with Mike Olexa, who did it twice.

• He was the Gatorade Ohio Player of the Year in 1987. Willie Banks, a pitcher from Jersey City, N.J., was Gatorade’s National Player of the Year.

• He did a little pitching when he wasn’t patrolling center field.

“He would’ve been really good at it if he really wanted to pitch,” Cameron said. “He had done it at an earlier age, back when he was 12, 13, 14. But he decided he just wanted to play center field. He threw hard and had a wicked curve, but really didn’t want to dedicate the time to pitching and all the finer points of it.”

• His teams never won a Greater Catholic League championship, finishing second twice. The Crusaders went 21-9 and were district runners-up in 1986. They were 14-10 and didn’t make it out of the sectional in 1987.

• He lived in the Beckett Ridge area in West Chester.

“The first time I saw him play was in a Moeller uniform, but I had heard about him back when he was in the seventh and eighth grade from his summer coach, Barry Strasser,” Cameron said. “Barry had Moeller connections, and he’s really the one who put it in Mrs. Griffey’s thoughts about sending him to Moeller. He would’ve gone to Lakota.”

• He was an average student.

“He was Cs and an occasional B, but you could tell that he knew where his life journeys were going,” Cameron said. “I think he understood clearly that he was gifted with exceptional talent. That’s all he was around. When he would go home, George Foster might be in the living room. It was just all baseball.”

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