Yesterday, Ken Griffey Jr. decided that he was going to return to the Seattle Mariners, where he started his career 20 years ago. This was probably the best non-Orioles related news I heard this entire tumultuous offseason. In a winter that saw Mark Teixeira sign with the Yankees, and thus spurning his hometown team, finally someone chose where to play with his heart and not his wallet. Seeing a player do something like that is nice, but not why I really care. This story runs much deeper than that.
Ken Griffey Jr. begin his career in 1989, and it was clear from the start that he was going to be one of the all-time greats. This same year, I was being nurtured in my mother's womb before being born on November 28th. As his career was taking off, so was my life, which makes it easier to see how we have become entwined. However, the similarities run deeper than this. Ken Griffey was born in Donora, PA, which is about 3 and half hours west of where I was born and raised in the great state of Pennsylvania. As I was growing up, he was my favorite player not only in baseball, but any sport. He had the kind of personality that everyone loved, and he played the game it was supposed to be played. I can still clearly remember getting baseball cards at a very young age of Griffey, and once winning one at a YMCA summer camp for knowing the two capitals of Bolivia (Sucre and La Paz by the way). The day after winning the card, one of my brother's friends brought me a special case for the card. I don't know what spurred this random act of kindness, but I was very happy to say the least. I guess Griffey just brought out the best in everyone.
As I continued to grow up in the 90's, I was the lone Mariners fan in a house filled with Orioles fans. Despite this, I was still taken to Orioles games, and I loved every minute of it. In 1995, as Cal Ripken Jr. was chasing the consecutive games played record, we went down to see the Orioles play the Mariners the week before he broke it. I remember the place was packed, and everyone was there to see Ripken...except me. I wanted to see my hero play. I don't remember how well he did or even what the final score was, but I can still somewhat remember being there. One of the many great moments I've witnessed in Camden Yards over the years. Of course, it was a much happier time for a 5 year old than it was for my mother. At the time, my grandpa was in the hospital with a brain tumor at the time, not that I was really aware of that. She's told me in past years that while he was laying in the hospital he asked the nurses to turn on the Orioles game so he could watch 2131. They said ok, but only if he didn't get too excited. It wasn't too long afterwards that he lost his battle with cancer, and I can still remember my mom coming home one day and laying on the couch crying for hours after he died, but that's not what this story is about. This story is about Griffey, and soon after this event my aunt and uncle bought me a Ken Griffey Jr. poster for Christmas that defined excellence at the bottom of it. 1. The state or act of excelling, 2. Surpassing others in accomplishment or achievement. That poster has hung in my room since then and is still there in the original frame that it was given to me in. It's always been there to motivate me to be the best that I could be.
Finally after years of playing in Seattle, Griffey was traded to the Reds. I remember being so upset that every time I heard "Centerfield" by John Fogerty, it made me sad because that was the song they played for Griffey when he was up to bat in Seattle. I still rooted for the Mariners and Griffey in Cincinnati, but it wasn't the same. Plus, since I was never able to see any of the Mariners games, I really couldn't follow them too well. Then, one year, I watched the Orioles play on Opening Day against the Red Sox. The Orioles won, and I wanted to keep watching, so I did. Ever since then, I've become a diehard Orioles fan because I was finally able to watch a team play and develop. Also, seeing as I've been raised in an Orioles family, it was an easy transition. I've always gone to Orioles games and rooted for them. It just became more meaningful to me, as it quickly became my favorite sport and the Orioles my favorite team. I still root for the Mariners, but I've been through too much with the O's for me to ever consider myself anything other than an Orioles fan.
Now, Griffey is back in a Mariners uniform, and I couldn't be happier. I imagine that seeing Griffey wearing a Mariners uniform on Opening Day will rank up there in booing Mark Teixeira in Baltimore as my favorite memories from this year's beginning. It'll never be the same for me, but I hope that he brings back prosperity and happiness to the fans of Seattle that have been searching for it since he left. Maybe those folks will be feeling nostalgic too as they hear, "Now batting, Ken Griffey Jr!" as "Centerfield" by John Fogerty is played. I know I will be.