|Griffey: "I didn't know how much I missed being in Seattle."|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 22 June 2007 17:08|
The loudest batting practice crowd at Safeco Field in years roared.
For a moment, it was the 1990s again in Seattle.
``Griffey, you the man!'' yelled a Mariners fan in the first deck.
The man credited with saving baseball in Seattle through majestic home runs, wall-scaling catches and magnetic charisma was back for the first time since forcing the Mariners to trade him to his hometown Cincinnati Reds in 2000. He is 37 now, owner of 582 career home runs entering Friday night's game.
``I've had some good times here. Learned to play baseball here,'' said Griffey, whom the Mariners drafted No. 1 overall in 1987 and put on their opening-day lineup two days later. He stayed there for the next 11 years.
``Being a 19-year-old kid, it was on-the-job training. And the organization here allowed me to be me,'' he said.
Griffey smiled often while keeping his arms crossed in front of him on a table during a press conference before batting practice, and he addressed the crowd in a ceremony on the field just before the start of the game.
After worried about getting booed - just as former Mariners slugger Alex Rodriguez has been for seven years since he bolted to the largest contract in baseball history with the Texas Rangers - Griffey received a roaring, 3 1/2-minute standing ovation from the sellout crowd.
``Never did I imagine it would be like this coming back,'' he said. ``I didn't know how much I missed being in Seattle.''
The fans roared again.
The Mariners presented Griffey with a framed photo of Safeco Field during the pregame ceremony, with the words ``The House that Griffey Built'' across the top.
Griffey's wife and their three children - Trey, 13 and in a Reds uniform after taking batting practice with dad, plus daughter Taryn, 11, and son Tevin, 5 - sat on chairs near the Reds' on-deck circle. Melissa Griffey, a Seattle-area native, was wiping away tears.
``I spent 11 wonderful years here,'' Griffey said, adding he checks box scores ``every day'' to see how the Mariners are doing.
``Thank you, guys, for supporting us when we were terrible, for not giving up on us. ... Thank you for letting me go out there and do what I do.''
Hours earlier, he was less forthcoming about his frustrating 7 1/2 seasons with the Reds. It has included eight trips to the disabled list, no postseason appearances and Cincinnati's perceptions of him being moody and unapproachable.
Griffey was an All-Star 10 times in 11 years with Seattle. He's been an All-Star just twice in seven seasons since.
``I still have fun,'' he said. ``I think it took a while for the people of Cincinnati to understand me. I still think sometimes they don't understand me. I think the people in Seattle know that I don't like to talk about myself ... I'd rather get up, go out and play baseball and go home.''
He spent Thursday driving his family past two of his former homes, in suburban Renton and - after his Mariners salary jumped from $700,000 to $2 million in 1992 and eventually to $8.7 million by 1999 - in more upscale Issaquah. Then Griffey drove to the home of Jay Buhner, his former Issaquah neighbor and Mariners teammate who now lives in Fall City, Wash.
Buhner, Griffey, Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez and Randy Johnson all were with Seattle in 1995 when it picked up its first postseason series victory.
Griffey was injured early in the season but led the Mariners on a wild rally to win the AL West in a one-game playoff. He then scored from first base on Martinez's double to beat the Yankees in the final game of the division series.
That fueled momentum for lawmakers to pass special legislation that fall to build Safeco Field. That, in turn, kept the Mariners from moving.
``Do I think about '95? Yeah,'' Griffey said. ``We had things that you always dream of. Playing in the playoffs. Winning a playoff game ... the Edgar double. Everyone jumping on each other at home plate. That will never leave my memory. And being a Seattle Mariner will never leave my memory.''
He said he just wants to enjoy his weekend back in Seattle as much as he can.
``People have written a couple of things in the last couple of weeks about me shrugging it off,'' Griffey said. ``But you have to understand, I've had a job to do, wherever I was playing. I couldn't get ahead of myself until I actually got here. So once I landed and got off the plane I was able to relax ... and reflected on what it was like when I played here.
``I try to stay pretty much even keel. I try not to let it get to me. But it's exciting.''