Micah Rice: After growing up with Griffey, he still has 'it'

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

Published:

 

Growing up, Ken Griffey Jr. was my guy.

Well, me and thousands of other adolescent baseball fans in the Northwest as the 1990s dawned.

photoMicah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548 or micah.rice@columbian.com.

So I know I was not alone in paying special attention to Griffey's induction to the Mariners Hall of Fame last weekend.

Sure Griffey had his flaws as a role model. He could be moody, petulant and standoffish.

Yet there is something magnetic about Griffey, who drew a sellout crowd to Safeco Field in a season where the M's are in the bottom third of Major League attendance.

So why does Griffey have "it" that still makes him so loved among Northwest fans?

For many of us, we grew up with Griffey.

Some historical perspective is needed to understand what Griffey meant to a youth growing up in the Northwest.

In 1989, Seattle was still in the hinterlands of American consciousness. This was before Kurt Cobain changed American culture with four chords and the spirit of teenage angst. Starbucks actually was a neighborhood coffee shop.

The NFL wasn't yet the king of American sports empire. Baseball still ruled, but the Mariners were serfs. If ballparks are cathedrals, ours was a dour gothic edifice where the summer sunlight was banned. Dracula would have had season tickets.

Griffey was a ray of light. His precocious talent not only broke through the clouds hanging over the Seattle sports scene, it served as a beacon to the rest of the nation. Mariners highlights started appearing on SportsCenter. Suddenly, we were getting noticed. We were becoming cool.

Griffey's nickname was "The Kid," but to boys playing baseball at the local park, he seemed more like the kid next door. If our Major League dreams came true, we'd play with that same smile and spring in our step. To us, that made him relatable.

As we grew older, realism and cynicism crept in. We learned of Griffey's flaws. But the past tends to be viewed through rose-colored glasses -- our naiveté recast as nostalgia.

And that's at the root of the reverence we saw from Seattle fans last weekend. Many at the ballpark came of age with Griffey.

And much like the halcyon days of youth, the sight of Griffey, Edgar, Buhner, Dan Wilson and Randy Johnson made us harken back to the time when the Mariners were competitive.

It reminded us how that team can enchant the region.

Like an old friend from our youth, we hope we'll run into that feeling again.

Micah Rice is The Columbian's Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, micah.rice@columbian.com or on Twitter //blogs.columbian.com/tailgate-talk.