At about this time eight years ago, Ken Griffey, Jr. was accepting the American League Most Valuable Player honor. Now, thanks to a myriad of injuries over the last four seasons, Griffey is collecting the National League Comeback Player of the Year.Still, receiving any award has to feel pretty good for Griffey at this point. He’s no longer “The Kid” — it’s hard to keep that moniker once you have kids of your own. And the Griffey who belted 35 home runs and batted .301 this season is simply a shadow of the player who was once christened as the best player in the game, the star who would eventually break Hank Aaron’s home run record. Heck, people thought Griffey might shatter Aaron’s prestigious mark of 755.In his heyday, Griffey was a player who could do it all. A lanky kid (which he truly was, making his major league debut at age 19) possibly possessing the smoothest swing ever, “Junior” was blessed with a rare combination of power and speed. He translated that speed in center field into 10 Gold Gloves, just two less than Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente.Griffey brought the struggling Seattle Mariners franchise into the limelight, to contender status. I would go as far as to say Junior did more for the Mariners than the color teal (and don’t deny it; we all rocked the teal in the ’90s). “The Kid” was the hero of children across the country, adorning the cover of video games and baseball-card wrappers alike. (Speaking of which, remember how expensive that 1990 Upper Deck rookie was?)There were always rough times. Critics despised the complaints with Seattle that he voiced publicly at times. Despite being a fairly quiet guy who kept to himself for the most part, detractors labeled Griffey as cocky. He was labeled a prima donna.But, after his recent debacle in Cincinnati, Griffey has dropped off of baseball’s A-list. Kids aren’t entranced while watching his picture-perfect swing. They don’t see the Griffey of old in the field, crashing into the outfield wall to rob a home run. “The Kid” has turned into a 35-year-old man.It’s hard not to feel a sense of irony when looking at Griffey’s fellow award winner — Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi, who snagged the American League Comeback honor. Giambi did have an impressive season while apparently staying steroid free. But, it’s those players like Giambi who have made the public forget how great the stars in Griffey’s era were. Banner home-run seasons by hulked-up ‘roiders took over America’s pastime and pushed Junior from an injured star to a forgotten commodity.Those power hitters loaded up with steroids have made 50-home-run seasons from the late ’90s look, well, quite frankly, fairly mundane. Somehow, swept up in the steroids scandal, the nation has brushed aside the accomplishments of Griffey and players like Frank Thomas. And, while it seems impossible to ever truly know these days about the legitimacy of any hitting statistics in baseball, Griffey and Thomas seem to hold up well under the scrutiny.When Griffey eclipsed the 500-home-run mark, there wasn’t the hoopla present after seemingly every Barry Bonds long ball at SBC Park.And compared to Bonds’ frosty relations with the media and the public, any of “Junior’s” actions in Seattle seem pretty civil. Hearing about any of Griffey’s accomplishments would have been a pleasant alternative to seeing Rafael Palmeiro’s ugly mustache in the news. Gag me.But, if even for just a millisecond, it’s nice to see Griffey take part of the spotlight back.
Daryl Murphy is a more serious doubt due to a sore calf and has been sent for a scan, while James McCarthy is expected in from Everton today and will be assessed by the Irish medical team.Six other players have been confirmed as injury absentees for Friday’s clash – they are Harry Arter, Rob Elliot, Paul McShane, Ciaran Clark, Liam Kelly and David McGoldrick. The attacking playmaker suffered a thigh strain while playing for Norwich at the weekend, and scan results have shown he will not be fit enough in time for the weekend.It’s the latest in what O’Neill has described as the “lengthiest list of injuries” he’s endured in his three years in charge of the side.Captain Seamus Coleman missed training today after picking up a knock, but O’Neill says he will be OK to take his place in the team.
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Liverpool against Borussia Dortmund 1 Liverpool will play Villarreal in the Europa League semi-finals.The Reds were drawn against the Spanish side after booking their spot in the last four in sensational style on Thursday night.Jurgen Klopp’s men looked certain to be heading out as Borussia Dortmund raced into a 2-0 lead at Anfield inside ten minutes.But they went on to stage a dramatic comeback, with Dejan Lovren scoring in stoppage time to seal a 4-3 win on the night and a 5-4 aggregate victory.Villarreal, who crushed Sparta Prague 6-3 over two legs to progress, now stand in their way of reaching the final.Shakhtar Donetsk and holders Sevilla will clash in the other semi-final tie.The Ukraine team, winners in 2009, eased into the last four with a 6-1 aggregate success over Braga.Sevilla – who have won the competition for the last two years – beat La Liga rivals Athletic Bilbao on penalties to continue their remarkable run in the tournament.The ties will be played on April 28 and May 5, with Liverpool set to host the second leg.The final is at St Jakob Park in Basel, Switzerland, on May 18, when the winners can claim a place in the Champions League for next season.