[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/11/18/art.griffey1118.ap.jpg caption="Secretary Rice announced Tuesday that Ken Griffey, Jr. has been named a public diplomacy envoy on behalf of the United States."]
WASHINGTON (CNN) - He has thrilled sports fans for over twenty years with his hitting and fielding exploits. But can Major League baseball star Ken Griffey, Jr. hit a grand slam for the State Department?
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice named Griffey a public diplomacy envoy Tuesday, tasking the All-Star slugger with spreading "the values of the United States" in large part by helping to spark "interest in America and in our culture."
"Public diplomacy must be a dialogue," Rice said after meeting with Griffey in Washington. "This dialogue must extend to every citizen in every country, especially to young people."
She noted that Griffey is uniquely qualified to engage young people given his stature as one of the best-known players in what is arguably the country's most famous sport.
"This is quite an honor," Griffey noted. "I think youth is the most important thing. (I am) looking forward to this opportunity to teach kids (and help) develop them."
Former baseball star Cal Ripken Jr., figure-skater Michelle Kwan and actress Fran Drescher have also chosen to become public diplomacy envoys in recent years.
Griffey's first trip as a diplomatic envoy will be to Panama in January.
Griffey, who turns 39 on November 21, recently filed for free agency after the Chicago White Sox declined a $16.5 million option on his 2009 contract. He was first drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 1987.
Griffey is currently ranked number five on the all-time homerun leader list. He won ten consecutive Gold Glove awards between 1990 and 2000.