"There's a buzz in the air today," the rookie manager of the Mariners said Thursday.
It was the morning after Griffey agreed to a one-year contract worth $2 million plus incentives to return to Seattle, and a couple of days before the expected arrival of baseball's active leader in home runs with 611.
The buzz resonated from Arizona to Seattle, where fans -- "a huge factor in him wanting to come back here," general manager Jack Zduriencik said -- cried on the radio, spiked season-ticket and suite sales at Safeco Field and demanded from the team store Griffey's No. 24 Mariners jersey.
In Seattle, Mariners spokeswoman Rebecca Hale said the 16,000 tickets were the most the team has sold in a single day in at least seven years.
Griffey will be wearing that jersey again this weekend for the first time since he left in February of 2000 as a 10-time All-Star, in a trade he demanded to Cincinnati.
Nine years later, Griffey's return has already helped prop up the Mariners. A losing team that didn't matter to many in its own city a few days ago will now be in the national spotlight that follows the 39-year-old through the final chapter of his illustrious career.
"You're talking about arguably the greatest athlete that's played in the Northwest," Zduriencik said. "Certainly the greatest athlete that's ever played in Seattle Mariners history, and probably the best athlete that's ever played in the city of Seattle.
"He can make this team and this city rejuvenated. ... We had to bring him home."
How cool is it for Wakamatsu to have one of baseball's greats on his team just one week into his first job as a manager?
"It's awesome," he said, smiling again. "I respect him and have watched him for so many years. You think about opening day for him, for me as the manager, for this team and organization, I think it's phenomenal."
The Mariners will hold a news conference for Griffey upon his arrival in camp on Saturday, before he works out on his own. His first drills with the team will take place Sunday morning.
Wakamatsu said he, Zduriencik and the slugger who is fifth all-time in home runs, but is coming off knee surgery, met for two hours following a physical on Sunday. They agreed Griffey will decide where and how much he plays this season.
He'll be in left field when his legs feel fine. When he says he needs a break, he'll be the designated hitter.
"He knows his body. He's a guy toward the end of his career," Wakamatsu said. "He's going to let us know. ... It's too early for me to talk about lineups or playing time, until we can talk to each other about how his body feels."
|Ken Griffey Jr. spent 11 seasons with the M's from 1989-1999. (Getty Images)|
"I'm really excited. I never thought as a kid that I would ever play with this guy," Gutierrez said.
First baseman Russell Branyan was a teammate of Griffey's in 2002 and '03 in Cincinnati. He can't wait for his reunion.
"You know what he's going to do in the clubhouse. He's a certain Hall of Famer and fun guy who loves to keep the team loose," Branyan said. "Everyone's excited."
Yes, but can Griffey pitch? How about play catcher? Or be the closer?
Those are just some of Seattle's needs. The team that lost 101 games last year has 23 new players in camp, plus a new GM, new manager and entirely new coaching staff.
Still, Zduriencik said Griffey's return signals the Mariners are serious about a sudden turnaround.
"I've said we want to be competitive in 2009 all along," he said.
Mariners fans feel that vibe now.
Callers to Seattle radio stations broke down while talking about their beloved "Junior" on the air, emotionally spent after days thinking Griffey was going to Atlanta instead.
Soon after his small STT Sports Lettering Co. near Safeco Field opened Thursday, owner Jerry Thornton got word the Mariners team store would be needing dozens of Griffey team jerseys.
All other work was put on hold, Thornton said in Seattle as sewing machines whirred and iron-on presses hissed around him.
Frances Traisman, the Mariners' vice president for sales, barely had time to chat from her office at Safeco Field.
"It's a great day," Traisman said. "We're very busy. We've had a lot of calls - for season tickets, for suites, for opening day. It's fun."
Mariners spokeswoman Rebecca Hale said 20 account executives were fielding a steady stream of calls. Soon after news broke Wednesday night that Griffey was returning, the Mariners sold a suite that had been vacant for months.
Hale looked out her office window at Safeco Field, saw the clouds on a 46 degree day and compared it to the 70 degree sun in Arizona.
"It's quite a lovely day in Seattle," she said cheerily. "It's Griffey Day!"