PEORIA, Ariz. - The only thing the Mariners can't limit with Ken Griffey Jr. as he begins his return to Seattle is his humor - already in midseason form.

Baseball's active home run leader had his first practice on Sunday since signing a one-year contract with Seattle worth $2 million, plus incentives. He joked about his new Seattle teammates, his former teammates - just about anyone near him.

"I feel like I'm on a darn high school recruiting trip," Griffey said while a trainer, a doctor, Mariners chief executive Howard Lincoln, other team personnel and a half-dozen photographers followed him from a pop-up drill on one field to batting practice on another.

So far, his return to the birthplace of his stardom 20 years ago is a rebirth of the humor that made him a lovable leader on Seattle's first playoff teams in the mid-1990s.

It's the opposite of the dark end to his first stint with the Mariners in 1999, when he demanded and ultimately received a trade to his hometown of Cincinnati.

He cracked on former Seattle teammate Jeff Nelson for having a "Johnny Unitas haircut." He cracked up the pitchers when he dropped in on their fielding drill.

He then cracked five home runs in his first batting practice with the Mariners in 10 years.

"He's telling me his legs are better, that he can use them on (low) pitches where he couldn't last year," Mariners rookie manager Don Wakamatsu said, referring to the knee injury the 39-year-old slugger played through last season before arthroscopic surgery in October.

"Offensively, I think he looks great. ... He says his timing is off."

Seattle has intrasquad games on Monday and Tuesday and opens exhibition play Wednesday against San Diego. Wakamatsu said Griffey likely will not play in any of those games, and he's not sure how soon Griffey will be in the lineup.

When he does start playing, Griffey will initially be the designated hitter - though he took part in outfielder drills Sunday and hopes to be Seattle's left fielder when the season begins April 6 at Minnesota.

"We're going to take it pretty slow," Wakamatsu said, adding he wants to see how Griffey reacts to "moving around" in these first weeks. "We're more concerned about him being ready for opening day."

Some of his new teammates seem in awe. Men nearly half his age just stared from across the clubhouse as Griffey ate waffles at his locker before practice.

At the end of the workout, veteran Mike Sweeney called the team to the middle of the diamond to wish Wakamatsu a happy 46th birthday.

"And we got you a present," Sweeney said. "Here he is!"

Griffey stepped forward and hugged his new manager.

Best present Wakamatsu has ever received?

"Yep, so far," he said later of the man whose 611 home runs are fifth-most all-time.

"I think it's important he feels comfortable here right away," Wakamatsu said.

If Griffey's first day back with Seattle is any indication, that's not going to be a problem.


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