Every boyhood sandlot game included Mariners fantasies, and the prize role was always Ken Griffey Jr.

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The alleyway that cut through the back end of the sandlot served as the right-field fence, with the slope-roofed garage beyond an apropos stand-in for the famous Camden Yards warehouse.

I don’t doubt that we looked ridiculous — hats turned around and bats waggling — to the neighbor who would occasionally interrupt the game mid-inning to hang her laundry, or to the porch-sitter across South Avenue who followed along blankly.

It is the height of childhood fantasy that a group of rural Pennsylvania preteens had the slightest thing in common with former Mariners slugger Ken Griffey Jr. at his peak. Yet all it took was a backward hat and an upright battling stance to step into his Nike-branded shoes.

The Yankees certainly were the most successful MLB franchise of the late 1990s, and the Indians of Kenny Lofton and a young Manny Ramirez had a touch of Seattle’s swagger.

Jaded memories?

But in our games, the backyard team with dibs always chose the Mariners. And its best player was always Junior.

I was usually Joey Cora, stubbornly demanding to play second base despite being left-handed. Mike was the closest thing we had to A-Rod, a smooth-fielding shortstop with just the right amount of cockiness. Andy could do a killer Big Unit impression on the lumpy mound.

Dom was Griffey, no questions asked, the only one with the effortless talent to play beyond high school.

We were young, exuberant and naive — just like those Mariners.

The fact that those Mariners never reached the World Series didn’t even really register with us. Griffey’s Home Run Derby performance in Baltimore was worth a fistful of rings when impressions are being formed in childhood flashpoints.

Our hometown Pirates were bad and would be until we reached legal drinking age. The Mariners were good. More important, they were cool.

The Mariners rocked vibrant colors and represented a city that, for us, might as well have been on the moon. Griffey had his own video game, for goodness sake, one I’ll dig my heels in and defend as the greatest baseball game of all time.

Such was that team’s pull with my generation of baseball-crazed youth. Those teal-brimmed hats still inspire nostalgia instead of the nausea that a decade of mismanagement has fostered locally.

I hadn’t registered the disconnect between local sentiment and my own memories of those mid-’90s teams until we failed to find the Griffey statue.

When I trekked cross-country to the Northwest three autumns ago for my first job, Andy tagged along — Andy, who owns three different Griffey jersey-tees, one for each of his major-league teams.

Approaching Safeco Field, we scratched our heads at the street signs. Edgar Martinez Drive? Look harder at that map. If Edgar has a street, Junior must have a highway named after him.

Let me backtrack before the online comments section catches fire — Edgar was a great player, the greatest-ever designated hitter. He’s the One that Stayed.

The absence of Randy Johnson Way makes sense, as he had his best years elsewhere and entered the Hall of Fame as a Diamondback. Alex Rodriguez left a trail of salted earth behind him.

But Griffey? Yeah, he left, too. But Griffey gave Seattle his best years, his coolest-athlete-alive years, when he could still scale a fence and rip back a would-be home run.

Griffey gave my generation that batting stance, that video game, a new way to wear a ball cap, a sporting idol, baseball’s answer to Michael Jordan. For us, he’ll always be a Mariner, a cultural touchstone that captured both of them at their best.

Celebrations of 1995 have lost their poignancy in the Northwest. By now, they’re mostly just a painful reminder of how far the Mariners have fallen.

It’s been a while since they were anybody’s first choice on the sandlot. They were an unfulfilled era of players when it came to titles, one that broke apart before its time.

But for a fleeting moment, the M’s provided formative memories for young baseball fans across the country. They inspired connections to both the team and among childhood friends 20 years later.

Now if you’ll excuse me, that ’95 highlight video just struck an old nerve, and I know I have my baseball mitt buried somewhere in this closet. Anybody up for a game?