Tonight, for the first time since I was nearly just still a boy, Ken Griffey Jr. returns to play baseball on a Seattle field. From 1989 to 1999, the guy they called “The Kid” was the most dominating player in baseball. He was the Micheal Jordan of baseball. There was nothing he couldn’t do.
I don’t care what kid you were, if you were growing up in the 90’s, no matter what Major League City you were closest to, you had a small crush on Jr., a soft spot and weakness in your heart for that left-handed looping swing. I know I did, and no matter how many hundreds of times we went out in the front yard to play baseball, I was Ken Griffey Jr., yeah that’s right. My friend Justin from next door was David Justice, his little brother Adam was Edgar Martinez or Jay Buhner, but I was always Kenny Griff. I wasn’t left handed, I was african american. I didn’t even play center field back then. It didn’t matter, that’s who I was when we played homerun derby, 3 on 3 baseball with ghost runners, pickle, basically anything that had to do with a baseball.
I lived, ate, slept Ken Griffey Jr. I can’t even begin to talk about how many cards I had of his, as I still find them buried in my sock drawers to this day. I’d stay up all night (aka midnight to a kid) and sneak the television on to just see Baseball Tonight and see what Griffey did in the late game against the A’s or Rangers on the west coast that evening. So many times, he came through and delivered for me with what I wanted to hear, another homerun. To just imagine having the 90’s Griffey on a fantasy baseball squad, wow. What a weapon he would have been.
So many summer nights made great by the kid in Seattle. There was baseball and the ageless Griffey, cookouts, little league games, and the ageless Griffey. Fourth of July’s, video games, long days at grandma’s house arranging my baseball cards of the ageless Griffey.
We had a sort of tradition, a hang out, a “fort” if you will that we’d venture to on our bikes. This fort was alongside a set of railroad tracks by our home. We would venture to these tracks and take pennies with us to lay down on the tracks so when the train came it would flatten the pennies, allowing us to fight over who’s was the coolest looking. We had a tradition, we’d walk down “X” number of railroad ‘ties’ and lay down our pennies so we’d know finally which flattened pennies were who’s. This was a very serious matter, I mind you. You can guess which # I chose, none other than the #24. Every single day, every single time. To this day, if you venture to the railroad tracks just at the beginning of Bean Oller, venture to the right side and count 24 down, you’ll see the many insignias of my youth. It’s a powerful thing to look at as a memory.
The 49 homer seasons, with a 56 homer season mixed in. The chase of history before steroids and other performance enhancers played a big factor. The Mariners bad bullpen that always cost Junior his shot at a ring. Heathcliff Slocumb. Jose Mesa. The way Junior seemed to glisten in the teal surroundings of the Kingdome.
All those memories will be brought back tonight as he plays in the house that Griffey built. Somehow, if you look close enough, you might just be taken back to another era tonight.