I awoke yesterday to a whole new world. A world where Ken Griffey Jr. is no longer a professional athlete. I knew the day was coming, as rumors swirled around Seattle, and baseball. I just thought it would be a little bit different. I thought Griffey would get to finish the season, and maybe be in the playoffs again. I thought that the last game of the year, Griffey would come out and hit a home run, putting his mark on the last game he would ever play. No one ever guessed that his pinch hit ground out to second a few nights ago would be the last at bat of a hall of fame career. It is fitting though that he would retire 75 years to the day after Babe Ruth retired.
I grew up idolizing Ken Griffey Jr. He played the game as it should have been played. He played for the love of the game. He had fun and played well. I could go on about his numbers and potential to break records, but what I would rather focus on is his impact on the game.
Griffey played with, speed and agility with passion. The Real Seattle Mariners twitter account (@therealseattlemariners), upon announcing his retirement, asked fans to post memories of Griffey with the hashtag ThanksJunior (#ThanksJunior). My cousin wrote in “Two things that will never be put in the same sentence, Griffey and steroids! #ThanksJunior.” Griffey played on a level platform and refused to cheat.
I have been a Mariners fan since my early childhood. I remember their first winning season in 1991, but more importantly, I remember 1994 and 1995. After the strike, people hated baseball. They thought the players were whiney and could not care less if baseball stayed or left Seattle. While it was truly a team effort to rally the fans again and make their first ever playoff run, Griffey got most of the credit, due to his 11th inning slide in to home plate off the Edgar Martinez double down the left field line that won the 5th game against New York. That iconic picture will be remembered forever both by Seattle Mariners fans and anyone who loves the game of baseball. At that moment, by sprinting from first, Griffey sealed the future of baseball in Seattle and guaranteed the building of Safeco Field (and the subsequent destruction of that monstrosity we called the Kingdome).
I was very upset they day Griffey was traded to the Reds, though certainly grateful that he went to the national league so he would not be able to beat up on our pitchers, and rob our hitters of home runs. I went out the next day and bought the only baseball jersey that I have ever owned in hopes that one day, he would come back and I could proudly wear my Griffey jersey again. I hung on to that Jersey and wore it the first chance I got to see him return to the house that he built.
Though not a native, Griffey will always be a part of Seattle. While he most likely did not pick up a hammer or draw a design (one of the reasons he left Seattle, was because the design of Safeco was not conducive to their his offense or defense), Safeco is truly “The house Junior built”.
I know that you have longed to be with your family for a long time. Thank you for returning to Seattle to allow us to say goodbye to you properly. Your mark on the City of Seattle will stand longer than Safeco Field itself. I am in mourning today as it feels as though we have lost a part of our family, though I am grateful that you are able to return to yours. Enjoy the extra time with your family, and your retirement.