During the ninth inning of the game at Safeco Field Monday (May 31), Ken Griffey Jr. came to the plate for what probably would prove to be his final time as a major-leaguer. It was just a fluke that I happened to be there to see him two days before he announced his retirement.
It was not a fluke that I was at the Kingdome April 10, 1989, sitting amid third-baseline seating with a bunch of newspaper types, barely settled in with beers and bravado for a relaxing evening when, with his first swing in Seattle, the 19-year-old Griffey sent one out in (of all places) left field. This was The Kid. Circa 1989, the idea was that he might become the greatest player who ever lived and might just deliver stable major-league baseball to Seattle.
He did the latter. Millions have it indelibly in their memories that he sprawled across home plate that night in 1995, grinning under a pile of teammates, having scored the run that moved the franchise deep into the playoffs and inspired power-brokers to save the game for the region. Griffey was indispensable for big-league baseball in Seattle on his way to becoming the most legitimate Hall of Fame player of his generation.
On Monday night my 30-year-old son leaned toward me at Safeco as Griffey, 40, came up with a chance for a walk-off game-winning home-run.
"Wouldn't it be great," he asked, rhetorically, his voice trailing away with the realization that a diminished Griffey, in what would prove to be his final at-bat, probably wouldn’t be able to deliver.
Griffey in his prime had peerless skills. He hasn't been able to play outfield credibly for several years. As a designated hitter, he'd lately become more of a designated out.
The shame of it is that Griffey never got to play in a World Series. Even while so many of his substance-juiced contemporaries preened during post-season play (and later begged for pardons for their transgressions), Junior was always home during the October classic.
Some of us wondered if maybe, just maybe, the M's could put together a mystical year in 2010 and deliver the team and its best-ever position player to a Seattle World Series. But anybody who watched Griffey strained to jerk a right-field single must have sensed with regret that his final home run had come months ago at the end of an honorable valedictory 2009 season.
Much will be said and written about Griffey during the weeks to come. None of it, no matter how heartfelt and eloquent, will get anybody past the pure jaw-dropping awe of being in his presence when he played the best baseball many have ever seen.
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