Sports

No longer The Kid, Griffey still would look pretty good in a Mariners' uniform

It was a weekend to remember at Safeco Field. There's no doubting that the return of the Seattle Mariners' prodigal son — Ken Griffey Jr. — was basically the sports story of the decade.

It was the first time that Griffey had played in Seattle since demanding a trade to the Cincinnati Reds back in 1999.

It also brought back a flood of memories and emotions for me. I basically grew up with Griffey. His 11 seasons with the Mariners started back in 1989 and came during the most influential time in my life.

His Seattle career began with me being an awkward sophomore at Auburn High School and ended during the winter of 2000.

During that time I graduated from high school, spent four years in college, got a job, got married and was preparing to welcome my first son into the world.

It was a huge decade of change in my life. But one thing that never changed during that time, was Griffey smiling his way out to center field inside the Kingdome.

He was the biggest thing the Seattle sports scene had seen in the history of the city. Griffey was not only the biggest star on the Mariners' roster, but the brightest star in the entire sport of baseball.

I have so many memories of Griffey. Mammoth home runs over the 20-foot blue right-field wall at the Kingdome, diving catches, the backward hat, laser-beam throws from the outfield and rolling around third base to score the winning run in the Game 5 victory over the Yankees in 1995. Those will be with me the rest of my life.

And that's why the ceremony before Friday night's game struck such a cord with me.

I'm not afraid to admit that my eyes got a little misty when Jay Buhner introduced his old outfield mate to a standing-ovation by 46,000 Safeco Field fans.

The fans in Seattle never had an opportunity to say goodbye to Griffey. His trade request came out of the blue following the 1999 season.

This weekend was Seattle's chance to say thank you.

For some odd reason, I always seemed to be in the Kingdome during Griffey's big nights, especially during the magical 1995 run.

I had just graduated from college and was doing what normal college graduates do during the months following throwing their caps in the air — living at my parents' house looking for a job. But after those days of getting rejected by every newspaper in the area, the nights revolved around heading to the Kingdome to watch the Mariners and legally drinking King Beers with my buddies.

I was there in 1995 when he made the miraculous catch against the wall of a Kevin Bass fly ball to deep right-center field. It was on that play that Griffey broke his left wrist.

I was in the crowd when he hammered a home run in his eighth-straight game to tie a Major League record off Minnesota's Willie Banks.

It's also pretty obvious to me that this weekend won't be the last time we get to see Griffey play at Safeco Field. After this season, Griffey has two more years left on his contract with Cincinnati. But the second year is a team option, which the Reds probably won't renew.

Plus, he can still play. Griffey showcased his all-around talent on Sunday when he hit a pair of home runs and made one tumbling catch. His second long ball was the 584th of his career and moved him past Mark McGwire into seventh place all-time.

And the idea of a Seattle return wasn't lost on Griffey. He offered a little Scooby Snack to the Seattle Mariners' fans, like myself, before Sunday's series finale between the Reds and Mariners.

In a pregame interview, Griffey told Fox Sports Northwest's Angie Mentink, who happens to be the wife of former Todd Beamer High School boys basketball coach Jarrett Mentink.

"I think I owe it to the people of Seattle, and myself, to retire as a Mariner."

Asked to clarify after the game, Griffey didn't say whether he meant he'd like to return to Seattle or if he was just wanting to come back and sign a one-day deal that would allow him to retire as a Mariner.

"As an athlete, you always want to retire with the team you started with," Griffey said. "You look at (former Dallas Cowboys star) Emmitt Smith and anybody else that moves on. You want to come back and retire with the same organization. I'm no different than anybody else.

"But I've got a few more years, so I don't think it's any time soon."

Smith signed a one-day contract with the Cowboys in 2005 after being released by the Arizona Cardinals.

I certainly wouldn't mind seeing Griffey's No. 24 running around Safeco Field because that's where he belongs.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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