… and there was great rejoicing in the land — especially in the Pacific Northwest.
When I first heard the rumblings a few days ago that Ken Griffey Jr. might return to the Mariners, I tried to keep from getting too excited about the possibility. In today’s big-money baseball world, team allegiances are more fading memory than reality. But still, I always harbored a hope that Junior would return to Seattle. Word broke this evening that Griffey had signed with the Mariners, and it brought back a lot of wonderful baseball memories.
I lived in Seattle when Griffey joined the M’s, and we knew we were watching the arrival of an extraordinary talent. Like Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, he was a centerfielder with all the tools: speed, power, defense, a head for the game. But most of all, Junior brought a boyish joy to the ballpark every night.
Yankee Stadium always seemed to bring out the best in him, and I vividly remember watching on TV a sensational catch he made one night in the Bronx, springing off the warning track to whip a homerun ball from the top of the fence. When he landed, he broke into a huge grin and charged back to the infield, holding the ball in triumph. If there’s a better Griffey moment, I haven’t seen it.
You can see the catch at the start of this Griffey highlight reel posted on mlb.com. That’s Randy Johnson, the Big Unit, on the pitching mound. I believe No. 29 at the plate for the Yanks is Jesse Barfield (as best as I can tell from the video and this nifty Yankees uniform number database).
I have many other memories of Griffey’s early days with the Mariners, but I’ll spare you the bulk of them. But I must mention the night Griffey and his father hit back-to-back homeruns. Our family was returning from somewhere in Eastern Washington, and we strained to hear the at bats over the crackling radio signal as we crossed the Cascade Range on Interstate 90.
Griffey has been hobbled by injuries for much of his career. I wish him great health in the year ahead. And I hope the Mariners will, at least for one game, go back to the old yellow-on-blue caps that the team wore in the early 90s when The Kid was still a kid.