Ken Griffey Jr. entering baseball’s Hall of Fame stirs warm and fuzzy memories for hordes of people, I’m sure.
Cheering Junior is a Northwest experience shared by many. This is likely your story as well as mine.
When I heard yesterday that Griffey had been elected by a record 99.3% of voters, four memories came to mind.
No. 1: My son, Sean, started playing baseball at age 7 on a Redmond West Little League T-ball team. The Warriors were a fearsome group of young rascals, to be sure.
My T-ball memories likely resemble yours: girls being a bit taller, and perhaps better players, than the boys. Kids hitting balls off the tee and running to third base. Kids rounding the bases while holding hands. Oblivious outfielders letting grounders roll past as they squat, stick in hand, eyes fixated on digging a hole in the dirt.
In 1992, team photos included personalized baseball cards with each player’s photo on one side and their statistics on the other. One heading read “favorite pro.” Sean’s entry, like most kids, read “Ken Griffey Jr.”
Throughout seven fun-filled years that I helped coach Sean’s Little League teams, the players were allowed to choose their uniform numbers. And each spring, kids scrambled to choose 24 – The Kid’s number.
Memory No. 2: In 1993, Junior went on a tear, homering in several consecutive games. I bought tickets to the July 28 game in the Kingdome, knowing he could tie the major league record. Sean, age 8, and I sat above first base. Junior stepped to the plate, took that familiar mighty yet fluid swing, and I heard a loud crack of his bat. Instantly I grabbed Sean under his arms and lifted him high so he could see over the standing crowd. When I heard raucous cheers I knew Griffey had homered. I never saw it. It was more important to me that Sean witness history – eight consecutive games with a home run!
Memory No. 3: Oct. 7, 1995. Mariners versus Yankees in game 4 of the playoffs in the Kingdome. My brother-in-law Lenny and I watched from somewhere above third base. The M’s trailed badly until Edgar Martinez hit a three-run homer in the 3rd inning. In the 6th, Junior blasted the ball into the seats to give the M’s a 6-5 lead. We fell behind again in the 8th, but with the bases loaded, Edgar smacked a line-drive grand slam over dead-center field to put the game away. I nearly blacked out I screamed so hard.
Memory No. 4: Years later, Junior rejoined Seattle at the end of his career, in 2009. His skills, diminished by injuries, made him a part-time player. My daughter, Kristin, and her fiancé Jason treated me and Jason’s dad to an early Father’s Day present – the Mariners versus the Diamondbacks game on Friday, June 19.
Sadly, Griffey rode the bench that game, and the Mariners trailed in the 8th inning. But Griffey was summoned to pinch-hit with two outs. He strode to the plate amid thunderous applause. Could he recapture the old magic? First pitch: Griffey swings, connects, and launches a towering fly ball over the fence in right-center field. The crowd goes berserk, along with announcer Dave Niehaus. Although Griffey’s home run – No. 618 of 630 in his career – merely tied the game at 3-3, it enabled the Mariners to win in the ninth, 4-3.
Congratulations, Junior, on your well-deserved honor. Thank you for providing me, and generations of fans of all ages, countless thrilling memories.
And it will feel even more complete when Edgar joins you in the Hall.