I saw Ken Griffey, Jr. trending this morning and I immediately got nervous. Whew! False alarm. He’s ok. The reason for him trending? Well, today is the day that the 2016 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame class is announced. Today is the next first step in Griffey, Jr journeying to taking his rightful place in Cooperstown. Let all the fans across the globe rejoice!
Long before people associated #24 with Jeff Gordon and Kobe Bryant. Long before Dale Earnhardt, Jr would step into the spotlight as Junior, Ken Griffey, Jr. aka JUNIOR was the #24 all athletes wanted to be like. His athletic talent was outerworldly. His knowledge of the game was envious. His swagger, long before the term was ever coined, superceded everyone else’s on the diamond. Junior is easily one of the most revolutionary athletes to not only pick up a baseball bat but to play sports, period.
I have been a Griffey fan since I was about eh, 12 years old. My granddaddy was a huge baseball fan and every day in the Spring when I would come home from school, he would be watching baseball. Watching it together was one of the ways we bonded. In the beginning, Junior’s games didn’t come on often in North Carolina so my exposure to him was often limited to SportsCenter highlights. Every night that he played, you could find me sitting in front of the tv, waiting with great anticipation to see what he did that night. Very uncharacteristically of most women, I was stationed in front of the tv with a remote in my hand. Not so I could flip through channels or change the volume but so I could record Junior’s highlights on my VHS. I am so serious. I had a tape full of Junior highlights. It is 2016 and I still have that tape.
There was just something about the way Junior played the game that resonated with me. Maybe it was the infectious smile that confirmed how much he loved playing the game. Maybe it was the way he seemingly scaled outfield walls often to rob someone of their homerun glory. Maybe it was the Nike Griffey Air Max 1’s that he wore that were so dope I begged my mother to buy me a pair. Thanks Mumphrey!! Maybe it was how he managed to breathe life into a baseball club that had been on life support for years. Maybe it was the fact that during batting practice, Junior often, much to the disgust of “elders of the league”, wore his baseball cap backwards. Or maybe, just maybe it was the fact that Junior had “the prettiest swing” baseball has ever seen. Ever.
Whatever it was, I was hooked. I could not get enough of watching Junior highlights. Whenever the Seattle Mariners happened to be on tv on the East Coast there was no prying me away from the tv. Home Run Derby night at the All Star Game, you could forget about asking me to come outside and play. “I will see y’all tomorrow,” is what I would say.
When Junior gets the call today, it will be the icing on the cake for one of baseball’s all time greats. Unfortunately, he will not make it into the hall unanimously. Some voter somewhere will remember that time he didn’t shake his hand after a press conference and will decide to hold that against him when casting his ballot. Eh well. Potato, potata. He is going home anyway.
To Junior: Congratulations!! You single-handedly made a young teenage girl in a small town in North Carolina love the game of baseball. Your willingness to always put forth your best effort if often not matched in today’s game. I could never forget watching you score from first on a game winning double by Edgar Martinez in 1996’s ALDS against the Yankess to send the club to the ALCS. You scored from first! Thank you, thank you for all you have done for the game and thank you for making my childhood memories of the game so sweet, memorable and unforgettable. #24FOREVER #Hat2DaBack