The best of the best
For a city that’s had more than its fair share of losers, Seattle has been home to some of the most perennial athletes of the past half century as well.
From Steve Largent, Jerry Rice, and Shaun Alexander, to Slick Watts, Lenny Wilkens, Shawn Kemp, and Gary Payton, to Kasey Keller, to Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Ichiro, and Edgar Martinez.
But out of all of those future and current Hall of Famers, and all of the other players to play in the greatest city in North America, I chose Ken Griffey Jr.
Jr. epitomized what a baseball icon should be.
Going back to the glory days of baseball, when names like Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, or Ted Williams filled the stories of my youth just like folk lore that was passed on from an older generation to my own.
Ken Griffey Jr. will be a part of stories just like those, when people my age sit around the TV and watch baseball with their grandchildren.
I can still remember the day that Junior got drafted.
My father told me that the Mariners had drafted Ken Griffey Jr. with the first pick.
I asked “who is that?”
I was only 10 at the time, but my father had never told me about a Mariners pick prior to that year, or any year after for that matter, so I knew he had to be a special player.
Growing up around his father at the ballpark who was a member of the Big Red Machine, the last NL team to win multiple World Series’ consecutively, this kid was groomed to be a major league star.
And he didn’t disappoint upon arrival in the Emerald City.
The word phenom gets tossed around pretty regularly in the baseball world, and rarely does said player rise to the occasion and become a star in the big leagues.
In today’s game, Bryce Harper comes to mind as a player who had the title, and has actually showed signs of becoming an all around super star in this league.
But Jr. displayed something that people hadn’t seen since 1984 when Roy Hobbs took over the big screen, natural talent.
He was a lock to win the rookie of the year honors, until an injury set him back, something that fans would come accustomed with over his career.
His bat was a little slow coming out of the gate, but that is to be expected from a 19 year old facing major league pitching for the first time in a competitive setting.
It came around though, and soon there was talk that Jr. would be the one to pass Hank Aaron for the all time home run record.
It wasn’t to be, though he did give it a valiant effort despite missing half of his career with injuries, especially during the Cincinnati days.
Going back to the players mentioned above, Jr. seemed to go above and beyond what today’s superstars do.
Number one, he smiled. He had fun on the field, in the batting cages, in the dugout, but most importantly he had fun with the fans.
When Jr. decided to return to the Emerald City after his stint with the Chicago White Sox it was by far my favorite moment in Mariners history.
He finally got the chance to play at Safeco Field, the house that Junior built, as a member of the Seattle Mariners.
His career had come full circle, and even though he didn’t end up over taking Hank Aaron for the home run record, he had done so much more for the city of Seattle.
Our hero was home. Our savior to be honest.
Even though he “tanked” and retired abruptly, his time spent back with this club during his swan song was the right thing to do, not only for the fans of Seattle, but for the game of baseball too.
Baseball talent like his will not be seen around these parts for a very long time again, and that is why I cherish every moment and memory that I have of Ken Griffey Jr.