It was a time for goose bumps and tears. Fans attending Wednesday’s Seattle Mariners game only got about an hour’s advance notice that the greatest player in team history had retired.
With Aerosmith’s haunting anthem “Dream On” echoing throughout Safeco Field, fans stood and watched a montage of Ken Griffey Jr.’s highlights. Realistically, Junior has provided enough highlights to require an entire Aerosmith album to get through them all.
The scene was so moving that both the Twins and Mariners players watched from the top step of their dugouts.
As the montage ended – fittingly – with the Kid’s mad dash from first to home plate in the 1995 playoffs against the New York Yankees, with the voice of a screaming Dave Niehaus piercing the air, fans applauded.
It wasn’t raucous, enthusiastic applause like during Griffey’s return to Seattle with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007, or his return to the Mariners in 2009. The crowd was significantly larger on those instances, and knew what to expect.
This was applause with a touch of melancholy. For many, their favorite player had said goodbye.
Many fans at Safeco on Wednesday were still stunned at the news that No. 24 had called it quits.
Andrea Katalich of Seattle was at the Pyramid brew pub with her husband and saw the news scrolling across the bottom of the TV.
“It’s sort of unbelievable,” Katalich said.
The highlight montage made it seem real.
“I was totally tearing up,” Katalich said.
She wasn’t alone. Even the manliest of baseball fans shed a few tears.
“I was trying to fight them off so I could look like a grown man,” said Dave Hoffman of Seattle, who was wearing a gray No. 24 jersey. “I bought it a couple days after he announced he was coming back.”
Now he’s gone.
Fans looked toward the Mariners’ dugout, perhaps hoping Griffey would make an appearance. But he wasn’t going to come out – he wasn’t at Safeco Field.
While there was some initial shock that Griffey retired on June 2, 2010, there was an overall understanding that this would be his final season.
“I knew he was going to retire after this year,” Ross Warren of Tacoma said. “I’m kind of surprised he did it midseason.”
Some would rather have seen Griffey go out differently.
“Obviously, you wanted it to happen on a little bit more of a positive note,” Hoffman said. “It was kind of hard the way it happened, being so sudden and seemingly like it wasn’t necessarily his choice.”
But there were signs of the possibility. Griffey had pinch hit once since May 23.
“He hasn’t been in the lineup very much, and Mike Sweeney more or less came in and took command of that position,” Warren said. “He was going to be the 25th guy. And as much as he wanted to keep playing, I don’t think he wanted to be the 25th guy.”
Still, how it ultimately ended didn’t seem to lessen Griffey’s status in fans’ eyes. Nothing he did this season could hurt his meaning to Mariners fans.
“Absolutely not, never,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman was quick to point out that it went well beyond this season or even last season.
“He’s everything,” he said. “Without Griffey, everybody knows the Mariners would be in Tampa Bay right now. He’s everything to Seattle baseball.”
To Katalich, he’s everything and more.
“I would say if you could roll up Wayne Gretzky, Joe Montana and Michael Jordan all into one for a city that hasn’t had a lot in sports over the years, that would be Ken Griffey Jr. as far as how people feel about him,” she said.
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