Friday, June 4, 2010

FAREWELL GRIFFEY: Reflections on The Kid

He was the first real superstar anyone in Seattle had ever seen. A thoroughbred who was almost guaranteed to be a Hall of Famer. Heck, in his first at bat in a Mariner uniform, Ken Griffey Jr. launched a homerun into the left field bleachers.

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Fast-forward 22 years. Junior is no longer the laughter-powered, sweet stroking, man-of-rubber who once prowled the Kingdome’s center field. At 40-years-old, the career long-baller has yet to unleash a homerun all season, despite high hopes heading into spring training.

Griffey had lost weight, about seven pounds, and had a nagging knee injury repaired in the off-season. Many speculated he would improve over his 2009 form, maybe he would have resurgence in 2010 and let loose 25 homers as a DH.

If you are reading this, you know how things ended. Number 24 quietly slipped into retirement on Wednesday, ending the most storied career of any Mariner. His legacy in Seattle goes beyond baseball, affecting other sports franchises and the city as a whole.

If Junior had been tagged out at the plate versus the Yankees in the 1995 ALDS, we might not have the Mariners in Seattle today. We certainly would not have Safeco Field and with the precedent of a publically funded stadium set, we probably would not have witnessed the 2005 Seahawks Super Bowl run. We would not have Qwest Field, Xbox Pitch, or even the Seahawks themselves.

When the Mariners were down, Griffey kept fans in their seats knowing that anytime he stepped to the plate was an opportunity to see the greatest swing in baseball. Because of Griffey and his long-ball, Seattle had credibility in the world of professional sports.

My memories of Griffey are like everyone else’s; gilded images of effortless homeruns narrated by a hysteric Dave Neihaus. An ear-to-ear smile topped with a backwards cap. The most natural and graceful swing of any major-leaguer, ever.

Griffey’s agent told reporters that Junior was driving home, cross-country, to Florida. I cannot imagine he will stay away from baseball forever, but after 22 years, Griffey has earned some time off. Give him time to nurse the wounds caused by the Kingdome’s Astroturf, say five years, when he will be eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Thanks for the ride Kid, and don’t forget, there is always a place for you in Seattle.

Reach Galen Helmgren at