Lost in the madness of last week’s nearly perfect game, Ken Griffey Jr. announced his retirement. My latest at Hardball Times examines one of the best players I ever saw and includes a story I may have told once or twice but that bears repeating, about the first time I got to see him in person:
The Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres were anointed “natural rivals” but no name was assigned because, frankly, nobody cared. I call it the Selig Series because, as far as I can tell, it appeals to Bud Selig alone.
Snark aside, Selig’s decision did bring the Mariners to San Diego once a year. With the Mariners came Griffey, then a brilliant player in his prime (he would hit 56 homers, win AL MVP, and cure the common cold that year) and my wife’s favorite. Due to circumstances I cannot recall (another joy of aging), we were unable to attend the first Selig Series in ’97.
The next season, however, we made it to the June 24, 1998, contest. We sat in the second row of the field level, opposite the edge of the infield grass on the first-base side, at San Diego/Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium.
. . .
What I remember about Griffey’s night happened earlier, in his first trip to the plate. He drew a walk off [Andy] Ashby, but that’s not important.
Earlier in the plate appearance, Griffey swung at and missed a pitch. The bat slipped from his hands and flew into the stands above the first-base dugout, a section or two over from us. He glanced in that direction and winced, as players will do when such things happen, then stepped back into the box to finish receiving his base on balls.
When Griffey got to first base, he looked in the stands. He found the person who had been struck by the errant bat and yelled out, “Are you okay?” I didn’t see the fan respond, but apparently Griffey did, as he waved and flashed that infectious smile (never mind how a smile infects; like the walk, it’s not important, and besides, he probably cured that infection, too).
Anyway, if you’re a fan of Griffey and/or Walt Whitman (whose words are borrowed liberally), head on over and read the article.