The Ball’s in Your Court: Ken Griffey Jr.

The name Griffey, synonymous with memories of the Kingdome, Wheaties, and an era of Mariner’s baseball in which extravagance knew no limit (indoor fireworks after every win!), is once again a part of the Seattle vernacular.

I can faintly remember the surreal feeling of my first few baseball games at the Kingdome. The booming voice of  Dave Niehaus yelling “MY OH MY,” as Griffey sprinted after a fly ball, catching it just as his body collided with that padded outfield wall.  It’s an age of Seattle baseball that was seemingly lost with the turn of the millennium; all booming economy, product endorsements, and that big white, Ken Griffey Jr. smile as a stamp of legitimacy. So when the prophecy of his fated return was confirmed on February 18, 2009, I couldn’t deny the automatic rush of nostalgic enthusiasm that seemed to permeate the Seattle sports community.

Of course, during a time of economic catastrophe, residual war obligations, and -locally- the impending death of print journalism, the news of his return was admittedly blown out of proportion. Griffey may as well have been nicknamed the Messiah, in his second-coming, back to wash away the sins of Mariners seasons past. Not only that, but plastered on the cover of every newspaper week after week, month after month, was relentless coverage of his return. As if Seattle finally found a figure to shove all their corporate failures and  government debt controversy onto, or rather, behind.

Yes, I am completely implying that Ken Griffey Jr. is Seattle’s latest escapism tactic. I hate to have to undermine his talent (though let’s admit, he’s not really the same “kid” anymore) and his genuine character, but really, aren’t we all just living vicariously through this serendipitous moment? To avoid utter hypocrisy however, I will fully admit that I was among the first to rush out and buy a brand new 2009 Griffey Mariners baseball jersey, dust off my Nike Air Griffey Max’s (I wish I was kidding….), and sit 36 rows behind home plate with a sign that said “Griffey!!!” inside a big Sharpie-green heart.

Just last month, Griffey scored his 400th home run against the LA Angels. The crowd was roaring. I happened to be sitting at the bar top of a classy restaurant in Redmond known as Canyons, having a frosted pint of Coors Light and a Corona on the side, watching the even as it played on the big TV screen above the hard alcohol. Around me, old men in overalls (the modern equivalent of coal miners, I’m sure), getting off a hard-day’s work, were glued to the screen in silent awe. To my immediate left, a young man with a T-shirt that had the playboy logo on it, was pounding his fist on the table, yelling out the words “f***’n sh**, god d***!” over and over again. That moment will forever be logged away in my personal scrapbook as one of reclaimed glory. The people of Washington stood still that day, and allowed a big grin to break across our faces as we watched and remembered; looked back on a time when a young athlete cracked home run after home run on our own grassy turf, and perhaps, we even allowed ourselves to be a little bit happy in the moment. Despite all things gloomy, we’ve got our Kid back, and he’s still got a wicked swing