As a kid there was only one favorite player to me… Only one athlete or celebrity that I idolized, and truly wanted to be like. From my garbage can in my room, to my posters, to my favorite trip as a family and the first thing I ever saved up for and bought with my own money… It had to do with The Kid. He made the game fun and exciting. I wanted to play baseball because of my dad… but I wanted to be like Jr.
I was lucky to have grown up in the Pacific Northwest where the Mariners were our “hometown” team. I got to be a kid myself when in my opinion, the most fun team to ever watch in baseball was thriving. Dan the Man, the Bone, Edgar, Joey, A Rod, Segui, Russ Davis, The Big Unit, Moyer, and The Kid. They were all so Godly still to a 10 year old kid because we only saw them during games, or on Saturday morning kids sports shows and not on social media or all of their “normal” lives. It was the final era of legends of the game before the social media storm hit athletes.
In 1998 my parents took me to my first big league baseball game which is still my greatest childhood memory. We saw the Kansas City Royals vs the Seattle Mariners and sat in the left field bleachers at the Kingdome in Seattle. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to think of Seattle and not think of Ken Griffey Jr. I remember it like yesterday. I remember how tall A Rod looked from shortstop, seeing Buhner’s shiny bald head and goatee in right field, and Shane Mack from the Royals throwing me a ball up over the wall and all of the big kids jumping in front of me and knocking it back down on the field after it jammed my finger… I even remember it was Dan Wilson poster giveaway night. But I wasn’t there to see any of those guys… I wanted to see Griffey. I remember that whole night because Griffey was there. I have no photos, no videos like you would from going to games today… only the story from memory of that game which to me, makes it that much better of a memory. It was my memory, not everybody else’s that I share it on social media with.
I watched Jr. the entire game. In the dugout, in between innings, how he setup before pitches and what he did in the on deck circle. Griffey was a great player, but an even better person. What I remember most from that game as a ten year old was Griffey playing catch in between innings or waiting in between pitches and talking to kids in the stands every single inning. To this day he is the only player I’ve ever seen do this so consistently, and to see that, I idolized him even more. Because of that, I even made it a point to always talk to people at the games at every level I played where I could. When I didn’t have confidence in a game, I would try to mimic that “Griffey confidence” which wasn’t very easy.
Jr. was always smiling. Always. He ran with grace, spoke with swagger, played reckless, and had style that has never been matched. He played to win, and he played to have fun. To me, he is the real GOAT. On and off of the field, Jr. did it right.
The first purchase I ever had was a Summer of saving up birthday money and lemonade stand money. My Mom watched QVC quite a bit, and one time QVC caught my eye… It was a Ken Griffey Jr. collection of every baseball card ever made of Jr. up to that point for only $100. I was still $20 short… so I told my Mom it was an investment that would only gain value and I took an advance on my upcoming birthday present from my parents for that remaining $20. Little did I know that the deal was happening because baseball cards value was on the out. I remember ordering them though and it was one of the most exciting days of my life having those arrive and getting to dig through his rookie cards and more. I didn’t buy them to ever sell… I bought them because it was the only thing in the world that I wanted right then because back then… baseball cards were the closest thing to getting to know your favorite player.
The first video game I ever chose myself was Ken Griffey Jr. Slugfest for N64. I can’t be beat at that game if Griffey is on my team. I still have it. The first baseball player I ever imitated when playing whiffleball was Ken Griffey Jr. and his upright, shoulder shifting, bat waddling stance and dropping those hands down and that long one handed release. Unfortunately it didn’t work well for right handers, so I’d hit left handed just so I could be Jr. If we had numbers that went up to #24 when I was in Little League, I’m sure I would have fought for that number.
I forgot about all of this stuff until I sat today and saw what felt like a final goodbye to my childhood. A sendoff to my childhood idol that meant he truly couldn’t ever come back and play again. It was officially the ultimate goal for a baseball player that marks an end to their playing career. I loved to watch Jerry Rice on the gridiron, and Michael Jordan on the hardwood… But to me, they weren’t even in the same league as Ken Griffey Jr.
Today’s speech from Griffey at his Hall of Fame induction summed up who he is as a person. He made it all about everybody else, and wasn’t afraid to be sentimental. He spoke with emotion, just as he played with emotion. You could see from his old teammates how much he meant to them, and how much they meant to him. You could see from his family how much they mean to him, and how much he means to them. Griffey wasn’t selfish, he wasn’t cocky, he wasn’t fake. He was just Jr., he had fun, and when he put that hat on backwards at the end… it was his way of once again being The Kid and making fans everywhere smile. Griffey isn’t dead. He’s not going anywhere. But, for baseball fans and baseball players, this is the final curtain to a playing career. The ultimate goal for a player. The end of the line, and the ultimate dream come true. Ken Griffey Jr. is officially a Hall of Famer. The final goal in baseball that can be set has officially been accomplished. There is nothing left to achieve for as a player beyond this ultimate honor. His playing career is officially over. Crazy.
To me, there will never be anybody else like The Kid. He’s the only athlete I’ve ever been a TRUE fan of. He’s the only athlete I would and ever will write a story like this about. I remember watching guys that I never saw play get inducted into the Hall of Fame when I was younger and thinking “I know I’ll be old when Griffey is retired and a Hall of Famer.” Well, I guess I’m officially an old man 18 years later. Thanks for always being the standard Jr. Thanks for making a kids game, a kids game again. Ken Griffey Jr. is what baseball is all about.