Ken Griffey Jr. is on your television. The news come down fairly quietly on Monday, mainly because it's debuting on Fox Sports 1, a relatively new sports network still trying to gain market share. After Junior's fiasco with Linda Cohn back in March, it didn't exactly seem like Junior was ready for primetime TV. Griffey has always been an enigmatic guy, cold to the media when he wasn't feeling it, warm and wonderful when he was. Charisma has never been a problem for Junior, but after all of the focus he's put on his kids/family after graduation, taking time to go back to work is a minor surprise.
It seemed a little odd when other athletes who clashed with the media made the jump themselves, including Donovan McNabb, Chris Webber, and Gary Payton. Fox Sports has targeted several of these former players to join their network, yet Griffey hosting his own show still seems both weird and intriguing.
So how is it?
The format works. The first episode features David Ortiz, and the majority of the show's 30 minutes features Griffey and Ortiz just bantering about hitting, whether it's guys you couldn't hit (Tony Fossas for Junior, Randy Johnson for Ortiz), sitting on pitches, plate mechanics, and daily routines. It's all excellent insight into the mind of a hitter and how they go about their business, and Junior comes off as a warm, welcoming host who kept Ortiz loose and candid. Time will tell, but given how well-respected Junior is around baseball, most of the people he'll be talking to are either former peers or young players who idolized him growing up. Junior shouldn't have any problems getting hitters to spit out honest thoughts or confessions.
The show works great until the game began on filming day, unsurprisingly in Tampa Bay, close to Junior's home. After some catching up with Mike Carp, Ortiz ended up with a routine day off. As a result, the last five minutes of the show awkwardly feature Griffey commenting on David Price, pitch sequencing, and wondering what Ortiz is up to while the camera cuts away to Ortiz staying loose in the cages. Ortiz's lone pinch hitting opportunity comes in the 10th, and it ends rather unceremoniously. Clearly this show is a compromise for the network and Junior with his limited schedule/willingness to film over multiple days. Ortiz's day off isn't likely to be an issue in future episodes, but when it does, it would have been a lot better to see extended conversation between the two instead of simply showing Junior watching the game (without Ortiz) from the press box.
Big Sticks has earned itself a season's pass on my DVR, and it should on yours as well. MLB has put together some of the better segments from the half hour below, so take a look and decide for yourself. It's a fair representation of the show in general. It looks like next episode will be about Andrew McCutchen - the hitter Junior so curtly remarked resembled himself during his busted ESPN interview. This Junior isn't anything like the cold one the world saw back in March (Junior blamed it on not feeling well), and it's always welcome to have the good, edited version of Junior in our homes than the sour one. As the years go by without Griffey in Seattle, this is the way to continue his legacy, taking the focus away from the bad and back on that warm, welcoming grin.