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Griffey, 9/11 family create bond06/22/2004 7:44 PM ET
By Bryan Hoch / Special to MLB.com
NEW YORK -- This is the story Ken Griffey Jr. doesn't want you to hear.
On the evening of Sept. 24, 2001, thick clouds of black, acrid smoke were still rising to the skies above New York, as what remained of the World Trade Center was frantically being torn apart by thousands of rescue and recovery workers.
Firefighter Kenneth ("Kenny") Marino of the FDNY's Rescue 1 unit, last seen rushing against traffic in a stairwell of the Trade Center's South Tower, was among the scores of heroes still missing that day.
Less than 100 miles south of New York's devastated Lower Manhattan community, Reds director of public relations Rob Butcher was logging into his Internet e-mail at the Reds' hotel in Philadelphia. Major League Baseball had returned to the ballparks six days prior, and the Reds were awaiting the opening of a three-game series with the Phillies at Veterans Stadium.
As Butcher scanned his messages, he came across one from Marino's wife, Katrina. She had just spent yet another harrowing day in the makeshift shelters surrounding Ground Zero filling out paperwork and praying for miracles along with hundreds of other FDNY families.
Kenneth had always been one of Griffey's biggest fans -- they'd even traveled all the way to Seattle's Safeco Field when Griffey was a Mariner, just so Kenneth could present his hero with his own long-sleeved Rescue 1 T-shirt.
She'd joked on numerous occasions that there were more photos of Griffey in the Marino's Monroe, N.Y. home than there were of herself.
If Griffey could just hit a home run that night, Katrina wrote, Kenny would be smiling down from heaven. Butcher printed the e-mail and personally delivered it to Junior's locker in the visiting clubhouse at the Vet, where the Reds outfielder's eyes darted across the page.
"I'd love to, if it was that easy," Griffey told Butcher.
But hours later, Griffey did just that, belting a solo shot in the fourth inning off Philadelphia's David Coggin. Somewhere in heaven, Katrina said later, Kenny was smiling.
"When [the terrorist attacks] happened, a week turned into a month," Marino said. "A day was a week. So much happened through that time, it was a fog. But for a moment, it lifted."
Katrina and her two children, Kristin, age 6, and Tyler, age 4, have since moved to a Boston suburb, although they acknowledge that New York will always be a part of their lives. The family was back in the Big Apple on Tuesday, reuniting with the Reds outfielder with whom they have been "honored" to share their lives.
"It's extra special," Marino said. "He's become a part of our lives."
Griffey, who made his first trip to Shea Stadium since July 2002 (he was injured during Cincinnati's trip to New York last year), spent part of a pregame press conference telling the media how he'd enjoyed watching his own son learn to play football and basketball recently because of the boy's sheer passion for the game.
He went through the motions of speaking about his 500th career home run on Sunday, but saved his true zest for the Marino children, giving a wide-eyed lecture about hermit crabs, tadpoles, tarantulas, and alligators.
Griffey presented Katrina with the blue wristband he'd been wearing on his left bicep Sunday, when he belted his milestone home run off the Cardinals' Matt Morris, and during batting practice, young Kristin and Tyler playfully crawled over the body of the Reds outfielder, drawing great laughs and amusement from all involved.
"Being here right now, [Kenny] could probably tell me half these guys' stats," Katrina said as the Reds stretched on the infield grass. "This was his dream. I can't even half appreciate it the way my husband would. But if he's living through me, he's getting an eyeful."
Later, Griffey was quiet as far as detailing his experiences with the Marinos to the media, and perhaps rightly so. He would only publicly comment that it was "nice to see them again," a pithy quote which didn't surprise Butcher, the Reds' PR director.
Griffey opts to keep nearly all of his private contributions just that -- private. The Reds have even had to make mum the word on a number of Griffey's recent charitable donations.
"People just don't see this side of him," said Butcher. "He won't tell anyone."
But while the paying crowd at Shea Stadium booed Griffey when he made his first plate appearance Tuesday, grounding out to first base in the first inning, Katrina was certain that there was at least one Griffey supporter watching from above, clapping and applauding his every move. Kenny had always done so before, so there was no doubt he would be again tonight.
"I know [Griffey] has a big fan looking out over him," Marino said.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.