Tuesday, March 23, 2004

posted by James - 1:50 AM

Before I sign off for the night, I made the mistake of turning on SportsCenter. On the Big Show, former Seattle Mariners All-Star Harold Reynolds is interviewing another former Mariners All-Star Ken Griffey, Jr., and he's throwing out a doozy of a quote on how he copes with all the booing and jeering over his annual letdowns since joining the Reds.

"They wish they were me," Junior said.

No, Junior. We wish you were you.

You stopped being you in about 98, which coincided with you coming off a 2 H/15 ABs ALDS and the Mariners limping to the end of the decade and the opening of SafeCo Field.

You lost your smile... and you lost at least 20 points of SLG% per year until your body fell apart and dropped the rest for you.

...but none of that mattered to me. Your home runs and over-the-wall catches meant little to me. The way you played meant everything to me as a baseball fan. It's probably the main reason for my existence as a baseball fan.

You played like there was no other place in the world you'd rather be than on the baseball field, whether it was Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium or the Kingdome.

And I felt that with you. When you were flashing your smile, you made me not want to be anywhere else, whether it was sitting in front of the TV, huddled around the radio with my father listening to Dave Niehaus or even in the third deck of the Kingdome hoping you'd hit one my way.

You gave us hope. Not just the fans who had watched two franchises mire in failure for the breadth of their history... the fans who weren't even born when Diego Segui threw out the first pitch.

After you arrived, we had hope we might see winning baseball. Before you arrived, I barely knew what that was.

About this time, the Oakland A's had started their run of playoff appearances. I watched them pretty closely, mainly because the Mariners were always behind them. In 1987, I even went to Oakland Alameda Coliseum and saw Mark McGwire hit his 45th and 46th home runs en route to setting a new rookie record.

And of course, the previous season introduced me to the concept of a single player making the difference when Kirk Gibson won a World Series game with a last at-bat home run.

I saw that in you, Junior. You played like those guys, and you were even funner to watch than them.

You made me believe baseball could be fun; that baseball is fun and was fun the whole time.

I had to wait for the replay to make sure I heard you right. I did, and I don't think any differently.

No, I don't want to be you, but I sure used to.

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