With Ken Griffey Jr. set to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, I couldn’t help but think back on my relationship with him. When Griffey was at his apex of both popularity and baseball prowess, let’s say from 1990 to 1997, baseball was damn near everything to me. I poured over box scores every morning at breakfast, watched as many games as I could and a nice little Saturday was a trip to a local baseball card shop. At the time, the Red Sox were my team, but Ken Griffey Jr. was my guy. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying this. You may have liked other teams besides the Seattle Mariners, but you sure as hell liked Griffey.
And how could you not? For a kid in his early teens, Griffey was everything you wanted in a baseball player. He played the game with endless amounts of fun and enjoyment and he raked. Plus, dude, and this can not be understated or undersold, he wore his hat backwards during batting practice and more importantly, during the Home Run Derby.
It was then that a kid from Maine was able to see Griffey in all his glory. It was as if his baseball card and the posters and the pictures from sports magazines had come to life.
Dude, it was awesome.
Dude, Ken Griffey Jr. was awesome.
Now as a 36 year old man, I can look back at my life up until this point and hitch my wagon to two very distinct memories involving Ken Griffey Jr.
The first one goes back to those golden years of the early nineties. It was one of my birthdays, I honestly can’t remember which one at this point. My sister can’t either and she remembers everything. Let’s say it was when I was in fifth grade. How old was I in fifth grade? Can’t think of that either to be honest with you. Maybe I was 11 or 12. That sounds about right.
So I was celebrating one of those birthdays and a few days before my birthday I was told by my parents that we were going somewhere to celebrate. I asked where. They said it was a surprise. A day or two later, they elaborated some, telling me to wear my beloved Ken Griffey Jr. t-shirt and my Mariners’ hat. I was an idiot. I thought we were going to Canobie Lake Park, which is an amusement park in New Hampshire. I thought that until we continued on past New Hampshire, traveling down 95 on this mystery adventure. Then I think I started putting two and two together, but that could easily be hindsight and selective memory talking. Most likely I didn’t realize what was what until I saw Fenway.
The trip might have even been my first time at Fenway and again, I’m not entirely sure. But we had great seats- maybe thirty rows up behind home plate, courtesy of my buddies’ dad, who at the time was the coach of the Boston Bruins. It’s good to have connected friends. And by now this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but I don’t remember much from the game. I think I remember being there. But hey, that’s enough for me. I got to see Griffey in person. I got to see Fenway. I got to be that kid at the park proudly supporting a member of the visiting team. But hey, I was just that, a kid. You’re allowed to do stuff like that up until a certain age. That’s sports law.
The second memory I have of Griffey is a more recent one. It was in 2010 and it happened at a rinky dink little airport in Linden, New Jersey.
Some background here. I work in events and have worked in events since 2007 or so. Working in events, specifically the kind of events I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with, has put me in the presence of some famous people. I’m not bragging or anything, just being honest. And I’m also not trying to sound like an ass when I say that for the most part, I don’t get star struck. There’s something about the context and the situation that removes that. It falls by the wayside occasionally, but for the most part, you’re just two people doing a job and that’s it.
In 2010 I was working at this lovely little airport in Linden, New Jersey, a town north of Rahway and south of Newark, for an event taking place in New York Harbor. Given the type of event it was, the airport was in a way, the backstage area. So seeing as how it was the backstage area, it drew people who hang out in backstage areas. I remember seeing Liev Schreiber one morning. It was that kind of thing.
Well one day the airport was open to VIPs and it was a random collection of people. Yet one of those people was none other than Ken Griffey Jr. and this floored me. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t talk. My assistant asked if I wanted to get a picture with him and if it was socially acceptable, I would have slapped that dude right across the face. I couldn’t talk to Griffey. I couldn’t even approach Griffey. Man I was 100% starstruck in a way I had never been before. All of sudden I was 12 years old again. I followed him from a distance, unable to put words together. It was as if a myth was being proven to be an actual effin’ fact right in front of my face, like if I was in a bar one day and Jesus not only walked in, but poof, turned freaking water into wine and we had a glass together, avoiding talking politics because why spoil a good glass of wine with the ugliness of that riff raff. It wasn’t a dream coming true; it was a dream being made. It was creating the genesis of a dream I would likely have later on and in that dream, I would maybe have the courage to talk to him. But not in real life. No way.
It was easily the highlight of that entire experience, with no disrespect given to the wonderful town of Linden, New Jersey.
Your sports heroes you have in your formative years take on such a quality. They aren’t real people. They are Gods.
Ken Griffey Jr. was a God to me. He’ll always be a God to me.
And now that God is a Hall of Famer.
Makes total sense to me.
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