When Ken Griffey, Jr. returned to Seattle in 2007, his first visit since the team traded him to Cincinnati, I thought I’d reached my emotional peak as a sports fan.
I bought tickets to the first and last game of Griffey’s return, a three-game series.
I spent the days leading up to the games trying not to think about them. If the Reds came on Baseball Tonight, I changed the channel. When the Mariners promoted the series, I changed the channel. When sports radio hosts discussed the series, I changed the channel.
Growing up, teachers would have us put together paper circles formed into chains around Christmas time, and we’d rip one off every day. By about the third day, I’d become so impatient I’d rip the whole thing up and throw it away. I didn’t need anyone to remind me when Christmas was.
I re-lived that feeling leading up to the Griffey’s return, though that wouldn’t be the only past-time I’d re-live.
I was sitting in the right field bleachers when Griffey gave his speech before the game. When “Diamond Vision” started playing highlights from his career, a knot began deep in my throat and slowly crept upward. When he received the longest ovation I’ve ever been apart of, the knot was near the top.
I was then faced with a dilemma—I was raised with the understanding that men don’t cry, and if they did, they better have a damn good reason for it. Was this the time? An entire stadium full of cheering fans? The return of my childhood hero? Sitting next to a friend I personally played baseball with for over a decade?
I’ve never cried watching a movie, I’ve attended funerals and avoided tears, family members have given birth to children, the list goes on.
I don’t cry.
At the risk of disappointment, the truth is, I managed to keep all liquids contained within my eyelids.
Things have changed however. No longer do I have to settle for the Griffey wearing red and white. I don’t have to wait eight long years to see him dig into a Safeco Field batter’s box.
After a few tense days, where it looked like Griffey may be headed south to play for the Atlanta Braves, it is official—in a few short weeks, Junior will be once again donning the blue and teal.
Gone is my frustration with the front office; gone is my questioning the team’s choice for manager and general manager. Suddenly, winning games is less important.
I’ve begun to re-live moments, players and a better time in baseball. I remember when Seattle athletes had nicknames, and not the contrived JumboTron mockeries of days gone by.
I remember ‘Gar, Bone and The Kid. I remember A-Rod, the Big Unit and the Little Unit. I remember when the best Felix in Seattle was a shortstop named Fermin; when Tino and Edgar played across the diamond from each other; and the days when the team still couldn’t find a damn left fielder.
I remember Blower Power, Buhner Buzz Night, the fly ball contest and the hat trick. I remember watching the Kingdome implode—hell, I remember the Kingdome.
I remember walking up what seemed like endless winding ramps to the 300-level to sit with the rest of my little league team, all with our baseball gloves on the off chance gravity failed for a brief moment and we had an opportunity to catch a home run.
I remember walking on the field. I remember Jay Buhner’s chewing tobacco stains on the right field turf. I remember the light blue walls—the walls that Griffey once climbed and hit tape measure homers over.
I remember doing infield drills in little league, and my coach insisting I “use two hands” to catch the ball. I remember resisting, thinking “Griffey doesn’t use two hands, why the hell should I?”. I remember receiving the nickname “The Tool,” because my coach made me take the next infield drill with what amounted to a ping-pong paddle strapped to my hands, forcing me to follow his rules.
I remember "Sweet Lou" Piniella. I also remember "Sour Lou" kicking dirt and picking up second base, throwing it into center field.
I remember attempting to bat left-handed, like my hero. I remember giving up that aspiration a few dozen swings later.
I remember going to Opening Day with my aunt, and being disappointed that she bought box seats, as I’d never catch the ever-elusive batted souvenir with all those nets in the way. I remember singing “Dan the Man,” when the M’s catcher stepped to the plate, but being too young to understand why my aunt kept talking about how “Dan Wilson had a nice butt.”
I remember walking into a local card shop and seeing a black and white card with both Ken Griffey, Sr. and Ken Griffey, Jr. in Mariners uniforms, and in bold white letters it said, “The Griffeys.” I remember knowing that hell-or-high-water, I’d own that card.
I just wish I remembered which box I put it in the last time I moved.
I remember Alex Diaz’ perpetually dirty jersey as he did everything he could to replace Junior when "The Kid" broke his wrist.
I remember riding on the “bad bus” while the Mariners played the Angels in a one-game playoff.
I remember the usually raucous bus being dead silent until Luis Sojo hit an inside-the-park grand slam down the right field line, which is how I choose to remember the double with a two-base error.
I remember Randy Johnson reaching to the heavens and subsequently being trampled by his team when the Mariners beat the Angels for the American League West title.
I remember the Mariners losing the first two games of the ALDS to the Yankees.
I remember Game Five, when my dad and I were too intense, and my mom and sister left the room to watch the game elsewhere.
I remember “The Double.” I remember Joey Cora scoring, Junior scoring, the team piling on Griffey and the infamous picture of Griffey’s trademark smile under a two-ton pile of Mariners.
I remember jumping up and down and clapping, looking to my left, and seeing my dad—with a bad knee, bad back, bad ankle and a bad foot—keeping pace with my nine-year-old self, bounce-for-bounce and clap-for-clap.
And I remember Joey Cora, crying, alone in the dugout when the party finally ended.
I remember hearing that there “is no crying in baseball,” and my dad confirming the notion shortly thereafter. I’ll do my best to remember that when Junior takes the field for the first time back in a Mariners jersey.
Some of my greatest life memories came while George Kenneth Griffey, Jr. wore a Seattle Mariners uniform.
I remember the sweet swing, the golden glove, the backwards hat, and the fun-loving demeanor.
While the man was gone, “The Kid” lived on in all of us.
Welcome home Junior, we’ve missed you.