On one meaningless day in 1989, a scrawny teenager with a backwards baseball cap took the first pitch he saw for a line drive home run to right field. The reason why I say it's meaningless is because the Mariners were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of Major League Baseball.
It came to be that the teenager turned out to be the first mega superstar that the Mariners ever seen. His name you ask? Ken Griffey Jr. is the name. I was nine years old when he got called up to the majors.
He had it all: the natural talent, the personality, and his hall-of-fame father in the same dugout. How to explain the time of the greatest athlete to play sports in Seattle by far? Here goes the best way I can explain it.
During the early part of his career, quite frankly, the damn Mariners sucked. Unlike the previous 12 years of existence, we had something to brag about. This “five-tool” freak of nature was setting records one after one in M’s history. This was before Edgar Martinez and Co. were coming into their own.
As the 1990s came to pass, Junior was considered a lock to break Hank Aaron’s home run record. The question lingered though, would Seattle be able to see them long enough for him to make a legit run.
Let’s face it, the Kingdome was a horrible place to watch baseball in. Fans were growing tired of perennial losing. Owners were losing lots of money and Tampa Bay was trying to gain control of our beloved M’s.
Okay, so it wasn’t the whole town’s point of view. They were the ultimate afterthought of the town. In 1994, the Kingdome’s roof crashed down and need to go through extensive repairs just to stay standing.
Word increasingly spread out with rumors stating that the M’s were going to become the Tampa Bay Mariners. Similar to the Sonics situation of present day, only a miracle could keep the M’s in town.
The Miracle was answered in 1995, while it didn’t seem that way, Griffey suffered his first major injury when he shattered his wrist while making an incredible catch against the right center-field wall. It seemed like the final nail in the coffin. Somehow, someway the M’s kept afloat the best way they could.
In August, they were 13 games back of the then led Bill “fire” Bavasi-California Angels. What Griffey did in his return, words can’t describe. From hitting clutch home runs to stealing bases to making dazzling catches, Junior tried to do everything he could to energize this team and make a run at the playoffs.
His teammates followed his energy and caught the Angels late in the year. I remember being glued to the TV or Radio listening to Neihaus and Henderson calling the games. Even my non-sports watching mother, tuned into the M’s games to watch with me.
The day of the one-game playoff. The retreat we were at, paused to watch that whole game. A good way to describe it would be imagining Hoosiers before the big game. The town just shut down completely.
Everyone could tell you where they were when Griffey scored from first in the 95 ALDS. After that season, it was announced that the Mariners got new ownership and would be able to keep the team in Seattle. Comes to find out its only the beginning of what was to come of the new hero of Seattle.
After that faithful, Griffey became an absolute idol of the town. Everyone was wearing a Griffey No. 24 jersey with a backwards cap. What ever he did or said, we followed. Everyone wanted to play baseball, he was our idol. His impact turned Seattle to the fans they are today.
When Safeco Field was going to be built, he was the main reason why. Even through all the bickering he made about how he wanted to go home or didn’t like the way the stadium was.
He was so good to us that when he made his return to Safeco Field last year, the place sold out and was rocking. Just like old times. What wasn’t natural was when he hit his 600th home run on Monday. Every major newspaper, TV, and radio station celebrated his career like he never left.
It's no secret that Jr wants to come back here. We need to have his presence in the town again, no more negativity, no more moody times. With the Sonics close to leaving town and the Mariners stuck in neutral for the last five years, we need our hero back. That’s you, Ken Griffey Jr.