Well the time has finally come. The time of watching my heroes on the field is over, and it is now time to watch them be remembered forever. This upcoming July one of the greatest baseball players of my childhood will be inducted into baseball’s most sacred fraternity, the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I don’t remember much of Ken Griffey with the Seattle Mariners, but I do remember how everyone around me talked about him. Griffey made his debut six years before I was born. He was a ballplayer, a first overall draft pick, and according to almost everyone, super exciting. I remember my dad, uncles, and family friends talking about Griffey to me when I was about three years old. Their faces would light up when he came to mind. They told me he was something really special.
As a young boy I collected baseball cards, mostly Yankees, with a strong emphasis on Derek Jeter. Griffey Jr. however, was not far behind. I remember opening up packs of cards with my father. If there were no Yankees, the next best bet would be Griffey.
When I was five, Griffey was traded from Seattle to Cincinnati. Even at that young age, I was falling more and more in love with baseball. I watched it on TV, listened to it on the radio, played T-ball and attended numerous Yankees games. My family owned a 20-game pack at the old Yankee Stadium and we would go whenever we could. Most preschoolers have a short attention span, and I definitely did, but not with baseball, baseball was different.
I continued to watch Griffey in old YouTube videos, and highlights. He was special. From robbing home runs, making diving catches, to hitting baseballs 500 feet with the sweetest swing I have ever seen, Griffey literally did it all.
Behind Jeter and some Yankees, Ken Griffey Jr. was my favorite player.
As time went on, I would watch more and more games. Whenever the Mets or Yankees were playing Cincinnati it was on my TV. I was always waiting for either the blue number two, or the big red number three.
When Griffey stepped up to the plate, it was almost like the whole world stopped what they were doing to see if he was going to hit one of his 630 home runs. As I got older I would understand more and more about the game of baseball. The records, the more in-depth rules, and especially in my generation, the way players would cheat.
I would constantly hear things from pine tar, to performance-enhancing drugs. Sure there were the Mark McGwires, the Sammy Sosas and the Barry Bonds of the world, but there was no one quite like Griffey. He had a walk, a posture and a bit of swagger. Griffey never cheated. As a matter of fact, he was never really even talked about when it came to PEDs. He was clean, and so was his swing.
Griffey had a swing that no one could imitate, not even my friends and I in the driveway after school. He had confidence, was never afraid and no matter what game it was, you knew you wanted to watch him step to the plate.
So let’s fast-forward a bit. It is now June 22, 2008, I am now 12, and the Cincinnati Reds are in town at Yankee Stadium. It was the last game of a three-game set. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the final time Cincinnati was coming to the old Yankee Stadium, and I had to be there. Griffey was in the lineup batting third, and the Reds were in last place. The Yankees had Andy Pettitte pitching, the Reds had Johnny Cueto. The Yankees led 4-0 entering the eighth inning and the only time Griffey reached base was a walk. He was 0-for-2 when he stepped to the plate in the eighth facing Yankees setup man Kyle Farnsworth.
In his last at-bat at the old stadium I remember sitting on the third base watching him walk to the plate, and seeing him demolish a Farnsworth fastball into the right-field seats. It was a spectacular moment for me. As he rounded the bases that day I remembered thinking to myself, “I am never going to forget this day.”
Time has passed, and I am about to enter my second semester as a sophomore in college, but somethings just never fade away. You remember them forever. Watching the latter part of Ken Griffey Jr’s. career, and watching that ball sail into the seats at the Stadium was almost as sweet as the swing Griffey had to hit it.
Thank you and congratulations, Ken Griffey Jr.