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Aging athletes headed in different directions

May 30, 2004|By MARK KELLER

It's said that you're only as old as you feel. Two big-name pro athletes, both the same age, had the sort of week that might make them feel like they are going in opposite directions on the timeline.

Thirty-four-year-old tennis star Andre Agassi, once thought to be washed up at age 25, lost in the first round of the French Open on Monday, bringing to the forefront the question: "Is it time for Agassi to retire?"

There's no doubt that Agassi has made his mark on the tennis world, from his days as the male version of Anna Kournikova (remember the "image is everything" Nikon commercials?) through his multiple Grand Slam titles.

But 34 is ancient in men's tennis. Agassi can still be competitive in tournaments and make a run in a Grand Slam from time to time, but even he is starting to question whether he can play at the highest levels consistently.

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Asked whether he would return for the 2005 French Open, Agassi just couldn't say.

"It's a year away, and that's a long time for me right now," Agassi said. "The chances get less every year, that's for sure."

While Agassi starts looking closely at a future away from his sport, Ken Griffey Jr. is having the sort of career revival that Agassi enjoyed a few years back.

Since being traded to his hometown Cincinnati Reds, the 34-year-old who was once considered the best active player in the game has endured three injury-plagued seasons, boos from the fans who cheered the deal that brought him to the team and a front office that has talked openly about dumping him and his huge contract.

Finally healthy this season, Griffey is starting to resemble the player he used to be, the one thought to have the best shot at breaking Hank Aaron's home run mark.

Griffey is the baseball version of "My Back Pages," the Bob Dylan classic: "Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

He's quickly closing in on the 500-homer plateau, has helped the Reds climb into first place in the National League Central Division and could easily play another five or six years.

That's good news on two fronts for me. First, there's the whole Reds thing.

And as long as Griffey keeps playing, it'll keep me feeling young. When he stops, I'll have to confront the fact that I'm getting older, too.

After all, I am 34.




Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. His column appears every Sunday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2332, or by e-mail at keller@herald-mail.com.

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