I was six years old and already knew what I would do when I grew-up: I was going to be a professional baseball player. In fact, I couldn’t fathom why anybody wouldn’t want to play baseball for a living. During the summer, my dad, brother and I would play catch in the backyard each afternoon. But we didn’t just throw the ball around – my dad would simulate plays from the field to give us practice for our future profession. Ground balls were always my specialty.
Around that same time I began collecting baseball cards with my brother, JD. Our allowance was $1 a week, which we took straight to the baseball card shop. If I was smart then I would have kept the cards in their packages, where they would’ve stayed in mint condition and increased in value over the years. But I couldn’t do that – I had to look at them, play with them, memorize them, categorize them. I don’t have an exact count, but I probably own several thousand baseball cards.
I knew I was supposed to root for the hometown team, the Baltimore Orioles, and I did in the sense that they were my second favorite team. And it wasn’t so much a team I had to root for over the O’s; it was a player. He was slightly arrogant, yet extremely enthusiastic, almost to the point of being childlike. He also happened to have the sweetest swing in history, which I used to emulate when JD and I played Nerf baseball in the basement. He was my hero, my idol, my Ken Griffey, Jr.
One year I went trick-or-treating as Griffey. I had a Seattle Mariners jacket and convinced my parents to buy me his Nike shoes, the Griffey Air Max. My baseball glove had his replica signature on it, and I even wore my hat backwards just like him.
I don’t need to prove Griffey’s awesomeness – his achievements speak for themselves:
- 12-time All Star
- 1992 All-Star game MVP
- 3-time Home Run Derby champion
- 1997 AL MVP
- 10-time AL Gold Glove Winner
- 1998 ESPY Male Athlete of the Year (tied with Tiger Woods)
- named to 1999 All-Century Team
- 2005 NL Comeback Player of the Year
And then he got injured. And then he got injured again. Actually, he’s had four season-ending injuries, which will likely prevent him from ever coming near Hank Aaron’s coveted homerun record. It’s really sad when you consider how he got injured: once while diving for a ball, once trying to catch the ball at the wall, and once playing with his kids just this past off-season.
By the time I reached high school I realized I would never play professional baseball. All those days practicing in the backyard weren’t enough. Although I had one stellar season in Little League, I just wasn’t that good. But that didn’t stop me from rooting for my hero. When he got traded to Cincinnati my dad purchased the baseball package on DirecTV and I watched their games just to see Griffey play.
“The Kid” got traded a few years before my bone marrow transplant, which makes me wonder what the outcome would be if he were still in Seattle. You see, the University of Washington Medical Center just happens to be one of the best transplant centers in the country. If Griffey had still been playing in Seattle I probably would’ve gotten my transplant there so I could see him play. Coincidence?
I don’t want to jinx anything, but Griffey has been healthy this season and playing great, second in the National League with 21 homeruns and a lock to start in this year's All-Star Game.
Griffey still plays as hard as he did when he was a 19-year-old rookie. I worry that he’ll get injured one final time and then retire. No matter what, when it’s all said and done, The Kid will end-up a Hall-of-Famer who, if not for injuries, could have been one of the greatest baseball players of all time.
And he’ll still be my hero.
The Kid Grows Up