Often times in journalism we tend to settle for objectivity when passion is more apt for the situation.
So when we hear the realists and the fact-mongers going off about Ken Griffey, Jr. and his all-but-sealed fate — retirement — it can sting those of us who lack the objective nature to evaluate a passionate situation through a gray lens.
If you grew up in the late-’80s and early-’90s in Seattle, chances are you formed a bond with Ken Griffey, Jr. that cannot be evaluated by any statistic or rational explanation. We all know that Junior has a special relationship with the people of this region, but none moreso than with the children who idolized him during a period of mutual growth.
While we were in elementary school and junior high, The Kid was a babyfaced teenager roaming the Astroturf outfield of the Kingdome. As we evolved, so did he. And together we endured life on separate plains, albeit in close proximity to one another.
He was a superstar, a millionaire, a budding legend. He had his own shoe, a video game, even a candy bar. He hit home runs, won MVP awards, and struck fear into men twice his age.
We were kindergartners, third graders, and finally middle schoolers. We had our own lunch boxes, his video game, and a t-shirt bearing his likeness. We hit home runs while pretending to be him in our backyards, won wiffle ball games, and struck fear into concerned parents (“Are those mud stains on your new white shirt?!”) more than three times our age.
We celebrated his glory, revered his achievements, and mimicked his batting stance whether we were righty or lefty.
We were euphoric when he slid into home in 1995, even though we were too young to fully comprehend the political implications of that iconic run.
We lamented the day he was traded, even though we were just old enough to treat his situation with a teenager’s smug sense of cynicism. It was okay that he was gone, we said, because he didn’t want to be here anyways. But secretly we knew it wasn’t okay. Just like we knew our parents were doing what was best for us when they set our curfews. Even if we did hate being home by 11.
We watched him from afar as he endured injury and frustration, the hopes of an entire city pinned unfairly on his back, the weight of an entire franchise pushing down on his shoulders. He never could make it Cincinnati, but really did he ever have a chance? It wasn’t home for him, despite where he may have spent his childhood. Because even though he was a kid there, he was The Kid here. Seattle was where he had done his growing up.
And then one day he returned. He was older, wiser, a bit slower on the basepaths, and lacking the freakish bat speed he once possessed. But when he put his jersey on, sported number 24 on his back, and felt his way into the batter’s box once again, it was like nothing had changed. Even with that inflating spare tire around the middle.
This is where we are now.
He is 39 years old.
We are in our teens, our twenties, the oldest of us brushing 30.
Two decades have passed since he was The Kid and we were just kids.
He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer who totes a mediocre batting average in what might very well be his final season.
We are college students and young working professionals who carry mediocre bankrolls in what might very well be the worst recession in our nation’s history.
We grew together out of innocence into our very own dealings with reality. From children, to teens, to adults. From a rookie, to a veteran, to a living legend.
In a sense, we are realistic. We know a major leaguer, no matter how special, can’t extend a career while hitting below .230. We know the outside fastball is now his greatest nemesis. And we know playing the field for him, as is the case with most of us, is a practice relegated to his younger days.
We know the end is near. We just don’t care to acknowledge it the way the objective realists do.
We’re a special group, us and him. We’ve never placed expectations on his name, his image, or his numbers. We’ve simply enjoyed what he can do.
Born out of a simpler time, when our biggest problems were fractions and book reports, we are coping with the terminal nature of our hero’s existence. And until Ken Griffey, Jr. takes his final cut, you will just have to deal with our passion and our relative ignorance to your numbers and your line of reasoning. It’s not over yet.