The cheering for Ken Griffey Jr. began when the Safeco Field gates opened Friday, around 5:15 p.m. Fans streamed down the aisles, many wearing...
The cheering for Ken Griffey Jr. began when the Safeco Field gates opened Friday, around 5:15 p.m. Fans streamed down the aisles, many wearing their old No. 24 Mariners jerseys with “Griffey” stitched on the back.
They cheered when Griffey took his practice cuts — hat flipped backward, a smile on his face, the familiar looping left-handed swing bopping baseballs into the right-field bleachers. They cheered when Griffey trotted to the outfield to shag fly balls.
And they cheered loudest about an hour and a half later — an almost three-minute long, stadium-wide standing ovation — when Griffey, making his first appearance in Seattle since being traded to Cincinnati in 2000, was welcomed back home in a pregame ceremony.
“Never could I imagine it would be like this coming back,” Griffey said from a podium at the plate, flanked by former teammates Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez and Mariners executives Howard Lincoln, Chuck Armstrong and John Ellis.
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“I spent 11 years here, 11 wonderful years here,” Griffey said. “I met my beautiful wife here. Two out of my three kids were born here. This place will be home.”
In his speech to the adoring, sellout crowd — which was preceded by a highlight video — Griffey strolled down memory lane, reminiscing about the magical 1995 season and how Buhner pushed the team to “screw the wild card” and go after the division title.
“We were all young,” Griffey said, “and didn’t really know any better.”
Griffey thanked Buhner and Martinez for being lifelong friends. Earlier, they presented him with a framed photograph of Safeco, titled “The House That Griffey Built.” Griffey was a superstar and perennial All-Star who put Seattle baseball on the map in the 1990s.
Then he turned to the crowd and thanked them for “supporting us when we were terrible and not giving up on us. And come the ’95 season, you guys are here 40,000 deep every night, rooting us on.
“I didn’t realize how much I missed being in Seattle,” he said.
Earlier in the day, during a news conference, Griffey called the Martinez double that vanquished the New York Yankees — and the subsequent dogpile at home with him at the bottom — the most memorable moment of 1995.
“That’ll never leave my memory,” Griffey said. “And being a Seattle Mariner will never leave my memory.”
He talked about growing up in Seattle, arriving as a 19-year-old who, other than baseball, “didn’t really have a care in the world.” He joked about now finding himself a 37-year-old father of three, taking donuts to their classrooms.
He said he was “excited” and “nervous” about his return. He said after flying in from Oakland Wednesday, he drove around looking at familiar landmarks, including his old homes in Renton and Issaquah.
He joked about playing six more years so his oldest son, 13-year-old Trey, could join him in the big leagues. He avoided questions about whether he wanted to come back to Seattle. And he stuck by his decision to ask for the trade that sent him to Cincinnati, calling it a family-first move.
“I think it took a while for the people of Cincinnati to understand me,” Griffey said. “And I still think sometimes, they don’t understand me. But the people of Seattle know that I don’t like talking about myself; I’d rather talk about somebody else and go out there and play baseball.
“In a perfect world, I’d go out, play baseball and come home. I think the way I play speaks more than what I have to say.”
Michael Ko: 206-515-5653 or firstname.lastname@example.org