Like the Seattle Mariners nerd I truly am, I have been looking forward to Ken Griffey Jr. Hall of Fame Night for weeks! Here’s a little recap of my experience at the game.
2:52PM – We officially arrived at Safeco Field! The lines looked as bad as Disneyland in July. Only the first 20,000 fans received Griffey bobbleheads and fans sure wanted to get their giveaway!
4:02PM – Success! Griffey bobblehead was eventually acquired! Gates opened two and a half hours before game time, which was surprising. With so much free time, we checked out the Milwaukee Brewers’ batting practice with a prime view behind the visiting team’s dugout. Unfortunately, the way they swung their bats was only the beginning of the Brew Crew’s offensive display for the night.
5:30PM – Hall of Fame ceremony started promptly. Safeco Field was PACKED. In all my years coming to the ballpark since it opened in 1999, I have never seen so few empty seats for a regular season game. Even the 300-section in right field was filled and that never happens!
6:36PM – Video clips and speeches from the pre-game festivities delayed the game (game time was scheduled for 6:10PM), but no one cared. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I actually forgot about the game and it was forgettable, with the Brewers shutting out the M’s, 10-0. Ouch.
As much as I enjoyed the Hall of Fame ceremony, after the game I thought about a question I was asked by a Mariners-indifferent friend: why does the Seattle Mariners organization constantly honor the past? It does seem like the Mariners often celebrate either a retired player or a past season – like the 1995 season when the Mariners came from behind to win the American League Division Series from the New York Yankees, or the 2001 season when the Mariners tied the 1906 Chicago Cubs’ MLB record for most wins in a regular season (116 games).
Non-Mariners fans and non-baseball fans similar to my friend say: let it go, move on or get over it. Focus on building a winning team today! To those people I bitterly reply, have you watched the last couple Mariners’ seasons? The past is all we have.
But upon reflection, isn’t that part of baseball’s charm – the past? It’s not a bad thing. Historic players, teams, moments – it’s something people from all backgrounds can recite, quote, recall, feel a small part of and share together.
When Junior was honored Saturday, August 10, 2013, it was one of those nostalgia-filled nights. Some people just came for the bobble heads, others were attentive to their phones, but most of the 46,027 fans loved every minute of it. I gladly admit that I was one of them. I watched every highlight video with rapt attention, gasped with excitement with each baseball great that appeared on the jumbo screen to send their well-wishes, and hung on every word of Griffey’s unrehearsed heartfelt speech that ironically was clocked at exactly 24 minutes.
During the years that Junior played in Seattle, it was a simpler time. He reminds me of baseball when it was untainted by steroid scandals or selfish greed of players who traded integrity and loyalty for larger contracts. There was just a Kid who played baseball for the love of the game. The proof was in the pudding with every Spiderman-like defensive catch or graceful home run swing that was followed by a cocky yet loveable saunter around the bases.
So when I try to explain why Griffey is one of the greatest of all time, I reference the numbers, the clutch highlights, and the swagger. And it’s not just what he means to the fans, or baseball in Seattle and the Northwest, but it’s how he impacted Major League Baseball. Griffey made baseball fun; he played with class and, as Rick Rizzs said on Saturday night, he did it the right way.
Thanks for the memories, Junior.