As many of you may know, a colossus of baseball has retired recently. It was a first for me. It was the first time in my life that I had witnessed the retirement of not only my all-time favorite baseball player, but my boyhood idol. Griffey did more for me than most fans. He not only seduced me with his effortless swing, like he did millions of others, he taught me how to play baseball. He was a perfect combination of natural born talent, charisma, effort (I’m talking to you Hanley), and youthful vigor, all rolled into the one and only live action Roy Hobbs action figure. His game had the grace of an antelope fused with the spirit of a 10 year old kid. If Michelangelo were to paint the roof in the House That Ruth Built, Ken Griffey Jr. highlight reel catches and home runs would fill it from corner to corner.
If Bo knew, The Kid did. Anybody out there remember how sad they were when Griffey’s season was ruined by having to receive a plate and multiple screws to repair a broken wrist after making a diving/jumping combo catch into the wall? Complete disregard for his body, all in the name of wanting to make the coolest play a 14 year old could think of. As a young, fellow south-paw, and eerily similar named kid who loved baseball, I used to mimic his every move between on the diamond. Shit, at one point I actually learned how to do the Griffey homer hand shake during the ’93 season. I rocked the backwards hat. Left-handed swing? check. And you can bet the barn that I smiled as much, if not more than he did too. Oh, and that smile. That infectious smile. Anytime you saw a Griffey highlight you saw that picture perfect smile that was a leftover from his devilish deeds of thievery in the outfield. This smile is how you knew he was still just a little kid leaving a dream. He was fortunate enough to have gifts, so gifts are what he gave back.
For my 15th birthday my parents gave me a Ken Griffey Jr. card collector’s gift. It was filled with Rookie Cards from both Upper Deck and Topps. It had a series of 20 cards, custom created just for this particular set. It was awesome. Combine those with about 24 more other Griffey cards I had managed to procure with Mom and Dad’s deep pockets and you have one awesome Griffey card collection. I was one bad ass card collector in those days. I even had a gold, metal, Griffey pogs slammer. I never lost it in a keeper game; he was my go-to guy in the clutch. Another gift Griffey gave me was one of the greatest father-son bonding experiences ever. When I was in 5th grade and still living in Houston my dad came and checked me out of school in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. He surprised me with a trip up to The Ball Park in Arlington, because Griffey’s in town. I saw not only a diving catch, but a home run that landed to my left in the grassy knollesque hitter’s eye in center field. These seats were tits. There was my idol performing like a Murcielago for my live viewing pleasure. I will treasure that moment for as long as I live. My all time favorite childhood memory, hands down.
It would be easy to go on for pages and pages about what Ken Griffey Jr. meant to me. But if these few examples can provide any hint as to the pleasure that came with watching Jr. play baseball, well then they have done their part. This essay is not just for me to share my Griffey stories, but to inspire you and your friends to share them amongst yourselves. For I am only one of many who have them. A legend has left the game on his own terms. He provided millions of people the opportunity to see baseball as they did; not the meat-market, cash drowned bonanza it has come to be currently. The backwards hat. The perfect swing. The infectious smile. The Natural. The Kid. Thank you Ken Griffey Jr. I will forever treasure you and the memories you have given me.