Ken Griffey Jr announced his retirement yesterday. His role with the Seattle Mariners both this year and last had been largely ceremonial, with him going a week between starts at times. It was a far cry from his peaks with the Mariners and the Reds.
Athletes, like all creatures, age and eventually must move out of the way for the next generation. But oh, what a generation Griffey was a part of.
I remember when Griffey burst onto the scene in the late 80s. I’d heard the name of his father from my Dad, who’d been a fan of the Big Red Machine in the 70s. But Griffey Jr was touted as better, the most sure thing a prospect had ever been. Heck, even Upper Deck placed him as the first card for their first ever series. And Griffey was only in A-ball at the time!
I was in the prime baseball card-collecting age and strived for that card, but never found it. Until my parents purchased one for me for my birthday later that year. I think it was my only present, but it was absolutely worth it.
It was Griffey that opened my eyes to the American League, opened my eyes to the fact that there was more to baseball than just the Cincinnati Reds. I’d wished the Reds would have been able to draft him, but there were too many teams scheduled ahead of Cincinnati. So I followed Seattle and watched as they slowly, inexorably built a team around Griffey and started winning more than they lost for the first time in franchise history.
The strike happened in the mid-90s and drove me away from baseball, so I missed perhaps his most thrilling play. His trade to the Reds for 2000 was what rekindled my interest in baseball and the Reds. It’s a fitting symmetry that the player who opened me up to the wider world of baseball would eventually bring me back to my childhood team.
His time with the Reds was beset with injuries, but there were still some awesome moments, majestic home runs, and the most beautiful baseball swing I’ve ever seen. I’m very happy that I got to see him play in person as many times as I did.
Athletes grow old, and the human body slows down and becomes more frail. It can be painful to watch, in part because it means we’re getting older, too. But there are times, when seeing that swing tickles the mind and brings back wonderful memories. Thanks for the years of entertainment, Kid.