Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Kid Grows Up

Read this first:
Griffey the Kid

Outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr.
I’m not writing about Ken Griffey, Jr.’s lackluster performance as of late. Though natural, it is always sad when our heroes deteriorate with age. I’m also not discussing his reported snoozing incident—all players probably doze off from time to time, some games can be boring to watch, and how that became newsworthy is beyond me.

I don’t want to get into “what ifs,” as in how many homers would Griffey have if he had never gotten hurt? 750? 800?

Performance-enhancers aren’t on the agenda either, despite his name never being linked. If juicing meant that Bonds was disqualified from career leaderboards, then Griffey’s 630 home runs would put him fourth all-time behind Aaron, Ruth and Mays. I actually wish he had taken HGH—then maybe the second half of his career wouldn’t have been so riddled with injury. Performance-enhancers have enormous medical value, and I wouldn’t be surprised if ten years from now they become an accepted practice to heal damaged tissue.

Reading through several articles about Griffey this morning saddened me. I was a small boy when I adopted him as my favorite athlete, and a twenty-something when he finally retired yesterday after 22 years in the Majors. He has been part of my life since I had a memory. I truly cannot imagine baseball without him. It will not be the same.

“The Kid” was one of my biggest role models, teaching me life lessons over the years. Hard work—he caused some of his own injuries because he leaped and dove for every ball in center field. Priorities—he left Seattle in 2000 because he wanted to be closer to his family. Perseverance—he continued to play despite his 20 surgeries.

I mostly felt sad for him. No matter how hard he prayed to stay 25 years old—or how wide he smiled or how straight he wore his backwards hat—time moved on and took him with it. At 40 and with a teenage son, he was demoted to a dugout bench next to teammates younger than me. Baseball was his life. I’m sure he feels very hurt, and his wounded pride may take a while to heal. I hope he knows how much he meant to me and so many others who idolized him.

Because of Griffey, I was clearly a Mariners fan growing up. When he was traded to the Cincinnati Red, I switched allegiance to the Orioles, my then-local team. (Though, I still watched Griffey play on DirecTV Extra Innings. His swing was more beautiful than Bar Refaeli in a Donovan McNabb Redskins jersey.)

Now, the Orioles are in their 13th consecutive losing season. Their record stands at 15-39, the worst in baseball. In the past, I could watch Griffey no matter how shitty his team was. I am a very loyal person and sports fan, but I can honestly say that I’m approaching my threshold with Baltimore. They have ruined baseball for me this summer. I can only bask in the memory of grilling two hot dogs outside on my parents’ grill and flipping through the channels to find my hero.

There may come a time soon when I consciously decide to adopt a new favorite team. I understand that is taboo at my age. With the Orioles a perennial disaster and The Kid now a middle-aged man leaving the game behind, I just want my summers back.