Ken Griffey Jr. is now (or at least in approximately six hours) a member of the most exclusive club in professional sports, the National Baseball Hall of Fame. When Griffey gives his speech later this year, it will have been 27 years since he debuted with the Seattle Mariners. I’ll have only been on this earth for 29 years when it happens, so I obviously can’t remember a time before ‘The Kid’ was roaming center field in Seattle. I’m okay with not remembering a world without Griffey as a professional, but it sure does make me feel old.
The reason I have been a lifelong, die-hard, Mariners’ fan (despite living in Oklahoma) is Ken Griffey Jr. If you have ever played baseball or even if you didn’t at some point you imitated Griffey’s swing. You know, standing up straight, bat straight up and down behind your back shoulder, elbow out and moving the bat in a circular motion. Being a lefty, I swung like Griffey hundreds (or thousands) of times growing up playing wiffle ball or goofing off in the batting cages. I have either watched on TV, live or through highlights, probably over 90 percent of his 630 career home runs. To say the least, Junior was my childhood and early adult life.
Many years from now when I’m a father and grandfather, I will be telling tales of one of the greatest ball players to ever take the field. I’ll recall watching him when I was a kid just like my dad has done with me describing great players of his childhood. It’ll be stories of a player who put his team ahead of his body, crashing into walls to make superhuman plays or laying out for a catch to complete a web gem before they existed. I’ll put in a DVD (or whatever we are watching then) and show them the sweetest swing to ever grace the game. I’ll make my kids and grandkids turn their hat around backwards with me to get the full effect. We will then watch the Home Run Derby King dominate the competition. I will also tell the sad story of how he could have been the greatest player to ever live had injuries not started piling up in his early thirties.
Growing old has its peaks and valleys, but one of the coolest feelings is to have seen your favorite childhood player during the prime of his career and then see him inducted into the Hall of Fame. This is really special and something I’ll never forget like so many other memories I have of him.
Congratulations George Kenneth Griffey Jr., that Mariners’ hat is going to look great on you in Cooperstown.