Since January, I’ve been planning to write this blog post at this exact time in July. I’ve actually had a somewhat tough time trying to figure out what to write up until this point (at least from when Coachella ended until now). In the middle of January, I found out my favorite baseball player of all time was going to be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame and of course I figured it was necessary to write about him around the time of his induction. I know it seems like for a passionate hockey fan turned women’s soccer fan that baseball shouldn’t really matter. Truth be told, baseball was my favorite sport during my childhood. In fact, from around Kindergarten through 2nd grade, my dream was to be the first female in the MLB (Major League Baseball). Part of the reasoning for that had to do with “The Kid”, better known to the world as Ken Griffey Jr.
Ken Griffey Jr. was an All-Star center fielder for the Seattle Mariners. He was a clutch hitter with home run power, who routinely hit third in the lineup, and a defensive master in the middle of the outfield, who made insane diving catches and robbed opposing teams of home runs. It wasn’t until around 1995 or 1996 that I really started following him and the Mariners (my favorite team by default). For a few years before that, my favorite baseball player (according to my tee ball cards) was Cal Ripkin Jr., but only because he was my cousin Chris’s favorite baseball player. It wasn’t until I noticed Griffey that I had a true favorite. He was the first athlete that I idolized. I even wrote about him in 2nd grade. We had to write a report on our hero. I chose Ken Griffey Jr. He was that cool in my eyes. I guess I’ll try to channel my 2nd grade report to tell you about him.
George Kenneth Griffey Jr. was born on November 21, 1969 in Donora, PA (he later moved to Cincinnati, Ohio). His baseball influence came from his father, Ken Griffey Sr., a three time MLB All-Star and two time World Series Champion who played for the Cincinnati Reds. Griffey was selected first overall in the 1987 amateur draft by the Seattle Mariners. He began his career at the age of 19 for the Mariners on April 3, 1989 doubling on his first major league at bat. He played with the Mariners throughout the 90’s until getting traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 2000. He spent 8 1/2 seasons with the Reds until he was traded to the Chicago White Sox at the MLB trade deadline in 2008. He was able to retire as a Mariner after being signed by the team as a free agent in 2009. His last MLB appearance was on May 31, 2010.
Throughout his career Griffey acquired 630 home runs (6th all-time in MLB), 2,781 hits, and 1,836 RBIs playing in 2,671 games. He was a 13 time MLB All-Star, a 10 time Gold Glove Award winner, and a 7 time Silver Slugger Award winner. He even won the AL MVP Award in 1997 and 3 Home Run Derbys. In 1998, Griffey was a part of the home run chase of Roger Maris’s 61 home run record. He dropped off towards the end of the race when eventual record breakers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa pulled ahead. He finished that season with 56 home runs, the same as his 1997 total and (tied) the most of his career in a single season.
On January 6, 2016, Ken Griffey Jr. was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by a record breaking 99.32% of the vote. Griffey will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend along with former Mets catcher, Mike Piazza. The ceremony takes place on Sunday and will be broadcast on MLB Network.
Ken Griffey Jr. was always a super star baseball player and an all around good guy, but he was also a cultural icon in the 90’s. He was endorsed by Nike and had his own signature sneaker line. He was the face of Nintendo’s baseball video games. He appeared on Wheaties boxes, in movies, and on TV shows. He was one of, if not the most, notable players in Major League Baseball and I totally bought into it. I, of course, had plenty of Griffey merchandise. I had t-shirts, caps, cards, figurines, posters, and even my baseball glove had a Griffey signature in gold on the palm. I still have most, if not all, of that memorabilia including my glove which I still use any time I play catch because it’s broken in and fits despite having a smaller pocket than what I need. I also still have a lot of the Griffey merch on display in my room making him a subtle part of my life since my childhood.
I stopped following “The Kid” shortly after he was traded to the Reds in 2000. In general, I stopped following baseball. At that point I was in 5th grade and became more interested in basketball than America’s pastime. I heard about Griffey here and there in the following years until his retirement in 2010. I heard when he was traded to the White Sox and when he signed with the Mariners again. I heard when he retired too, but it was already after he stopped playing. His retirement wasn’t a big happy going away party because of team controversies involving poor play surrounding him. He left the team to drive home one night in the middle of a 4 game home series with the Minnesota Twins and released a statement through the Mariners the following day. He chose to retire to avoid being a distraction to the team. However, on a more positive note, his former Seattle team plans to retire his jersey number, # 24, this year.
Fortunately, I was able to see Ken Griffey Jr. play baseball once. It was in 1998 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with my cousins who live outside of Baltimore. In fact, the day of his Hall of Fame induction will be 18 years to the date that I saw him play (I checked my old ticket for verification and yes I still have it). He didn’t make much of an impact that July afternoon (no homers or anything), but it was so cool to be able to see my idol out on the field. Now, years later, on the wake of Griffey’s Hall of Fame induction, it’s just as cool to be able to think back to when I idolized and followed him and to realize that he will be a National Baseball Hall of Famer alongside the greatest players in the game. It goes to show that no matter how old you get, your childhood idols will always have a place in your heart and you’ll still be happy for their accomplishments just as much as when you were young. Congrats to “The Kid” and thanks for always being my favorite!