February 2, 2023

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Ken Griffey Jr. surprises teen with invite to Hank Aaron Invitational

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Being called to the principal’s office can be an unpleasant experience, one that most kids spend their entire childhood trying to avoid. But for one particular student at Ten Oaks Middle School in Myrtle Beach, S.C., a trip down the hall on Wednesday will be remembered as one of the best moments of his life.

Jordan Robinson — a gifted 13-year-old, both academically and athletically — was assured that he was not in trouble as he sat down at a long table in the principal’s office. He was told instead that he was being recognized in a special honor roll ceremony.

That’s when Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. walked in and introduced himself. It took about three seconds for it to sink in who that was, and a shocked Robinson froze, his mouth agape.

“I’m going to let you get it all out,” Griffey said with a chuckle. “Like your principal said, you’re not in trouble.”

Griffey, the official spokesperson for the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation as well as a special advisor to the Commissioner, was there to personally invite Robinson to the Hank Aaron Invitational, one of baseball’s premier youth showcase and development experiences scheduled each summer at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Fla.

“I work every day as hard as I can. I want to play in MLB, I want to play baseball for the rest of my life,” Robinson said. “To see my hard work in some way get realized in some way really makes me extremely happy.”

Griffey’s visit to Myrtle Beach stemmed from a series of unpleasant events that prompted Robinson’s grandmother, Ellen Ross, to reach out to MLB for help. She initially wrote a letter to Darryl Husband, a bishop in Richmond, Va., who works with MLB in a special Play Ball effort with Black churches to encourage young people of color to play baseball.

Ross asked for some guidance for her grandson, the target of alleged racial taunts from players while playing for the Carolina Forest High middle school B Team. Robinson was the only Black player on the team.

The ugliness resulted in some of the season being cancelled. Horry County Schools said in a statement to the Myrtle Beach Sun News that the Carolina Forest B Team baseball season was “cut short by a few days due to the sportsmanship dynamics on the team.”

The hostile encounters prompted Robinson to tell his family he wanted to quit baseball.

Griffey heard about Ross’ letter and wanted to do something. An MLB executive first suggested he call Robinson. But the Hall of Famer wanted to take it a step further.

“I said, ‘How about I just go see him?’ I’ll just go see him,” Griffey said. “A phone call can only go so far. For me to jump on a plane and come here, it means more. I wanted to make a point that there are people here who care.”

“Walking in the room, he just looked so different from his highlight reel,” Robinson said. “He said his name, and it just surprised me.”

After Griffey extended the formal invite to Robinson to attend the Hank Aaron Invitational, the two had a conversation that lasted around 45 minutes.

“The things that happened a couple months ago, they shouldn’t have happened,” Griffey said. “We want to let you know that there are people out there that want you to be successful and enjoy this game, and to not let anybody deter you from playing this game.”

Then the conversation moved to baseball, with questions from Robinson on how he could improve his game.

“I took it as a great learning experience,” Robinson said. “I learned an approach from one of the best hitters ever. I’m going to take some things he said and I’m going to remember them until the day I die. It was very special.”

Robinson will see Griffey again this summer, when he joins his teammates at the Hank Aaron Invitational. The event features an All-Star lineup of coaches and instructors — Griffey included.

When things get rolling, there may be other kids there who have met Griffey at previous Hank Aaron Invitationals, but certainly none will have had the type of moment Robinson had with the Hall of Famer. Griffey is confident he’ll be impressed with what Robinson will do on the diamond.

“He’s going to be really good,” Griffey said. “If he keeps developing the way he is, and his mindset of, ‘I want to be the best,’ he’s going to give you the best on the field, off the field. He’s already a straight-A student. He wants to do the work on the field. You can’t ask for anything more.”

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