As someone who covers sports, I haven’t considered myself a fan in many, many years.
That said, I can’t help but be a wee-bit giddy over Ken Griffey, Jr.’s return to Seattle.
To start with, as a kid my favorite ballplayerâ€”hands downâ€”was Ken Griffey, Sr., who joined the Yankees right around the time I was really, really into the game. There was just something extra-cool about the guyâ€”the way his hat sat at the tip of his afro; the speed with which he tracked down balls in the outfield. Griffey was no longer the All-Star-caliber ballplayer he’d been with the Reds, but I loved him nonetheless.
Second, my favorite team for much of my youth was Seattle. Yeah, I grew up in New York and pulled for the Mets. But, when the Mariners were perennial losers, I adopted them as my own. Then they drafted Junior, as well as my up-the-block neighbor, Dave Fleming.
Over the years, I got to know Junior a little. Early on, he could be sort of a jerkâ€”cocky and aloof; went out of his way to make your job difficult. But with maturity, something seemed to snap. One of my best memories is from four or five years ago, when I went to the Reds’ spring training facility to do a piece on Joe Valentine, a Cinci pitcher who had been raised by lesbian parents. Most major leaguers I approached on the subject of gay marriage recoiled. I even had a Washington Nationals PR boob tell me not to ask such questions. But Griffey was fantastic: “If I had a gay teammates, I wouldn’t care even remotely,” he said. “In fact, I’d embrace it. One of my closest friends in the world is gayâ€”he comes and goes from my house without even knocking. It’s just not a big deal to me.”
I know it’s dangerous to walk this path, and I’ll hate when I’m later proved wrong, but I truly believe Griffey to be a clean, non-steroid/HGH-using ballplayer. I’m not alone in this take, either. There’s just something about the guyâ€”he loves baseball, and embraces the game, but you never get the sense he needs it or views it as his only priority. I will say this: I’ve probably covered, oh, 2,000 major leaguers, and he’s one of a handful who I am convinced has never cheated on his wife.
So welcome home, Junior. Hope it goes well for you.