SEATTLE (AP) -He was the grinning, boyish face of the Seattle Mariners. Really, the first face the team ever had.
Yet as Ken Griffey Jr. returns this weekend to play in Seattle for the first time since he forced his way out of town in 2000, he is fearful.
Of getting booed.
Griffey returns to Seattle on Friday with the Cincinnati Reds.
``I have none right now because I don't know what to expect,'' Griffey said this week, with the Reds in Oakland, Calif.
``People take it as I don't want to go back, but it's just that I don't know what to expect. Maybe it will be different once I get there.''
Griffey, now 37 with 582 career home runs, was loved by the Mariners faithful before he left town in 2000. He was Seattle's first national superstar athlete, known for his mammoth home runs and the way he wore his cap backward.
They even named a chocolate bar after their beloved ``Junior'' out here, even though he's allergic to chocolate.
Mariners president Chuck Armstrong doesn't think Griffey will be greeted with the intense boos Alex Rodriguez still hears, seven years after he bolted to take the largest contract in baseball history with the Texas Rangers.
``I know when I talked to him he was worried that maybe the fans might boo him here, because they have booed Alex Rodriguez and because Randy Johnson's received mixed reviews here. I told him, 'No, I don't think that's something you need to worry about.','' said Armstrong, who was the team's president when it drafted Griffey first overall in 1987.
``He is such an important part of the history of this franchise. ... It's been over seven seasons since he's gone, and I think his stature here has only grown.''
There were definitely bad feelings after the 1997 AL MVP all but declared during the '99 season that he would never re-sign in Seattle, even though the Mariners reportedly offered him an $140 million, eight-year contract to stay.
Even though his wife, Melissa, is from the Seattle area, Griffey wanted to raise their three children in Cincinnati, where his father, a former Reds All-Star, lived. Because he had 10 years in the league and at least five consecutive with the Mariners, Griffey could veto a trade to anywhere else.
gued by repeated injuries - though he has 19 home runs this season.
``When he left, he left for family and geography reasons. And I don't think you'll ever know if people understood that or not,'' Armstrong said.
Many in Seattle still credit Griffey with saving baseball here.
The Mariners went from expansion nobodies from their inception in 1977 to a first-time playoff team six seasons after Griffey arrived in 1989. He scored the winning run on Edgar Martinez's double when the Mariners clinched the 1995 Divisional Playoffs against the New York Yankees, Seattle's first postseason series victory.
In the fall of '95, state lawmakers passed special legislation that created Safeco Field. Seattle profits handsomely enough from its eight-year-old stadium - in which Griffey played only half a season - that the team's payroll this season is more than $110 million.
``It's a franchise teetering on maybe not even being there anymore. Griff came in and saved it,'' said Reds manager Jerry Narron, who played for Seattle in 1980, '81 and '87.
``We're getting ready to go to the house that Griff built - he did, too.''
The Mariners will host a pregame ceremony on the field for Griffey Friday night. His wife and children will be there, and the Mariners have invited Griffey's parents. But Armstrong said doctors have advised Griffey's mother not to fly from her home in Orlando, Fla. - about 3 miles from where her son lives in the offseason - because they recently discovered a brain tumor. Last year, Birdie Griffey was diagnosed with colon cancer.
The Mariners aren't sure whether his dad, who played with his son on the 1990-91 Mariners, will attend. He has prostate cancer and is currently doing well.
Perhaps one of the best things for Griffey about this weekend? By Monday it will be behind him. He said he's been asked to talk about returning to Seattle almost every day for three weeks.
``It takes some of the fun out of it,'' he said.
---
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in Oakland, Calif., contributed to this report.

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