Long before he had 623 home runs or 1,809 RBI, before the Gold Gloves and that '95 American League Championship Series - when he hit five home runs in as many games - Ken Griffey Jr. had my admiration.
He made me laugh in the spring of '88, did it all over again in the spring of '09, and in between showed his humanity a few hundred times.
I told Ken once that his love of children was genuinely touching, and his response was serious.
"I love kids," he said. "It's only adults I ever have trouble with."
When the Mariners first initiated that pre-game practice of putting a youngster at every position on the field during introductions, it was Junior who made it a spectacle.
Jogging out to center field, he was supposed to do what all the Mariners were asked to do - sign a ball and let the kid hustle off the field.
Junior jogged out there on the Kingdome turf, tackled the boy awaiting him and wrestled for what seemed like forever.
The crowd roared. The kid? He all but floated off the field when he was finally freed.
Griffey was so good with Make-A-Wish Foundation children, so unassuming and willing to give of his time, that the organization put him on its promotional literature for years.
That never changed, good years or bad. This season, he's batting .223 with 12 home runs, 37 RBI.
Yet when a young girl with a life-threatening illness appeared on the field during batting practice, there was Griffey, on one knee posing for family pictures with her.
Then, as her nervous parents watched, Griffey said 'Come with me!' and walked off the field, down the dugout tunnel and into the Seattle clubhouse.
The girl followed him. Her parents, the team public relations staff and the media did not - which was the point.
Junior sat her down at his locker and talked with her, and when she emerged minutes later, it was with a signed ball, a signed bat and the kind of smile that all but breaks your heart.
Few people in the world can do that for a child they don't know - put that kind of smile on their face. Griffey can. He's always been able to.
After seeing it happen more than 100 times, it's still affecting. When Junior bent over and whispered into her ear, then trotted off, he'd made a fan for life.
And reminded another why you have to love him.