Juvenile Joy: How Ken Griffey Jr. Brings Back the Kid in Me

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Juvenile Joy: How Ken Griffey Jr. Brings Back the Kid in Me

I'm a childish sports fan. I know I'm not alone when I admit that, because it's inherent to being a good fan. Performing the odd rituals that are expected of us requires a fairly low level of maturity, and I don't even think I'm as childish as they come.

There's nothing wrong with any of this—it's what makes watching sports fun.

But today, I'm feeling more like a kid than usual, thanks to another Kid. Ken Griffey Jr. is heading back to the Seattle Mariners, and I'm happy as a 10-year-old on his birthday.

As an immature sports fan (perhaps that's even redundant), I quickly tire of hearing about all that's wrong with sports every day—the steroids, the off-field incidents, the giant egos. The disappointment never ends.

Griffey going back to Seattle is the antithesis of all that.

Obviously, it's great because he's completing the circle of his career. He can become the first Mariner to hit 400 home runs with the club. He can give Seattle fans something to finally be happy about (have they been happy at all since he left in 2000?). He can retire in the city where he started his career and become the first to wear a Mariners hat into the Hall of Fame.

That's all wonderful. The child in me, however, is excited for far more personal reasons.

When I was a kid (and I'm not that far removed from that title), I was the biggest Griffey fan there was. I wore through Seattle hats and Griffey jerseys, wore Nikes with my hat backward, just like the Kid.

I collected an entire binder of Griffey baseball cards, 90-something in all (I might regret putting that in print...). I stayed up late to watch Mariners games, even as the West Coast start times clearly violated my bedtime.

Sometimes I would refuse to put my head on the pillow until the Kid unleashed that beautifully smooth swing and sent another home run over the Kingdome's turquoise wall. And he usually did.

I could go on for pages, but the point is that I was a Griffey fan of the highest order.

Though the fervor faded as I got older and Junior left Seattle, you never let go of your first sports hero. Every time I watched him hobble off with another injury, I grimaced. Every milestone home run he hit, I celebrated.

As he aged, Griffey seemed to vindicate my adoration at every turn, a devoted family man who kept his hands clean of the steroid era.

He's aged the right way, developing a potbelly and watching his statistics slow the way a beat-up middle-aged outfielder's numbers should. And he still gives photographers that classic photo op, giggling in the dugout with his hat turned backward.

It's a great (and rare) feeling to have a sports hero you can be so proud of. Imagine my tortured adolescence if I'd have rooted for Barry Bonds (virtually an identical player in the '90s, save for the surliness) instead. I feel like a parent who raised the nicest boy in the neighborhood.

So that's why the kid in me is so happy about the Kid. Ending his career in the place it began is the perfect thing to do, but what's even cooler will be remembering Griffey the way he was when I was 10 years old.

I can't wait to see him put on No. 24 again (could you even look at that No. 17 White Sox jersey?), glide out to the outfield (even if it's left field now), and flash that big smile in the city where he's always belonged.

I may just have to stay up past my bedtime to watch.

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