We all have childhood dreams.
Many of our youths are filled with promise, hope, and a belief that anything is possible. Often, these thoughts are farmed out of us as we reach adulthood, but what if one of those dreams actually came true? How would you react? What would you say? Recently one of my childhood dreams did come true when I got the opportunity to meet my hero, Ken Griffey Jr. To say the least, it was a surreal experience.
What is it like to meet someone you spent your childhood idolizing you may ask? It's nerve-racking. I was sure I was going to stumble over my words, to say something I shouldn't say, or to do something that would embarrass myself. I didn't know how easy it would be to talk to a living legend.
On August 9th, the Mariners had a Hall of Fame luncheon to honor Ken Griffey Jr. I was able to be in attendance. Griffey, along with Mariners past and present, recounted stories from their playing days. I was seated pretty far away, but managed to sneak up and grab a couple of pictures of Griffey, alongside his dad and mom. I was more looking forward to the media session with Griffey afterwards, where I would at least be able to ask him some questions.
The luncheon ended at about 1:15, and I went to sit in the interview room. I don't know where the rest of the media went because I was alone in the room. I didn't want to be late. I chose my seat carefully, on the end, in row 2. Close enough where I wouldn't be obstructed, but not so close that it would look like I was overly excited (yes, I was trying to hide my excitement in as much as possible). The press conference was supposed to start at 2, so I was forty-five minutes early, no big deal. It was about 20 minutes later when other media members finally started showing up. Ok! I was in the right place. And then we waited, and waited, and waited. Waited for what seemed like forever. Finally, at 2:20 in walked “The Kid”. And the press conference began.
Right away I was impressed with not just his answers, but the manner in which he would answer the questions. He gave each question quite an extended response, keeping eye contact with the person who asked the question. His answers were informative, full of humor, and humble. He kept trying to divert the attention off of himself, repeatedly saying “it took 25 guys to do what we did”. He even threw some humor in there when he said, “Jay (Buhner) and Edgar (Martinez) were the heart of the team, I was just the cute face”. After a couple of questions, I finally got the courage to ask my question, and guess what, I didn't stumble once. I told him he was my childhood hero and that I grew up idolizing him, then asked him if he felt athletes have a bit of responsibility, knowing that they have children looking up to them, and whether he felt any of that responsibility while he was playing. His answer was honest and thoughtful. “I didn't think about it when I was 19... now that I have my own kids I think about it more and understand that responsibility, but when I was 19, I just wanted to be myself and play baseball”.
The press conference ended and no press left. That's the first time I've ever seen that happen. Nobody wanted it to end. Griffey, graciously, stayed around and talked to us some more, off the record. Obviously, I can't record what was said, but it was nice to see this side of Junior. His sense of humor dominated the conversation. And the best part of all, I got to shake his hand and tell him in person, “thank you for the memories”.
Griffey's numbers speak for themselves (10 gold gloves, 630 career home runs, home run in 8 consecutive games), but what he gave me was much more than just the numbers. He gave me a hero, a clean hero, a positive male role model at a time when those were few and far between in my life. He gave me someone I could look to and say, hey, he does things the right way.
Am I seeing things through rose-colored glasses? Probably. But I don't care. In my eyes, he was the greatest baseball player who ever lived. When you throw in the five tools (hitting for power, hitting for average, speed, fielding, and throwing) you will be hard pressed to find someone who had all five more than Griffey. Maybe Willie Mays. That's about it.
In 2016 Ken Griffey Jr. will be going into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and will be immortalized in baseball history for all of the world to revere, but on this day, this one moment, he belonged to me. I got to shake my hero's hand, look him in the eye, and say thank you. So here it is one more time in writing: thank you Junior for the memories, thank you for making me fall in love with this great game, but mostly, thank you for doing it all with class and dignity. When my kids want a baseball player to look to in order to see how to play the game, I will break out the footage of Griffey and the smile that could light up any stadium.
Shane Rivers, Mariners and Seahawks correspondent for KMAS. Talking all thing sports related (and sometimes non-sports) Follow Shane on Twitter @Rainshivers