SEATTLE – Others will have to describe their goosebumps today, because that’s not the game Ken Griffey Jr. is playing.
The Seattle Mariners will open their home schedule this afternoon at Safeco Field, where, at least for a while, the game against the Angels will be a sideshow. This is homecoming day for Griffey, who’ll play his first game in Seattle wearing a Mariners uniform since 1999.
“I know it’s long overdue and I think he’s just as excited as the fans,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “He wouldn’t have come back if he didn’t understand the love for him here. Every day you see the smile on his face.”
Griffey, by his nature, refuses to show it around the media and remains adamant in not making this about himself. Monday, when the team worked out at Safeco Field, Griffey wouldn’t budge when asked about his return.
What will today mean? Silence.
What’s it like to be back in Safeco Field? Smirk.
Does it feel familiar? Exasperated look.
“I think I answered those questions two years ago,” Griffey said, referring to his emotional return in 2007 with the Reds for an interleague series.
“And I think I answered those questions again two months ago,” he added, speaking of his news conference at the Mariners’ spring training facility in Peoria, Ariz., on Feb. 21 after he re-signed with the team.
That doesn’t mean most eyes won’t be on Griffey today when he’s introduced to the sellout crowd, or when he jogs to his position in left field, or when he digs in at the plate for his first at-bat.
Among those in the crowd will be Griffey’s family _ mother Birdie, wife Melissa and children Trey, Taryn and Tevyn. Birdie Griffey has battled colon cancer in recent years and has been reluctant to travel.
“This will probably be the only time Birdie will come out, and that’s important,” said Mariners president Chuck Armstrong, who remained close with Griffey and his family since he left in 1999. “I know it will be a special day for the Griffey family. I know I’ll certainly tear up and get goosebumps when they announce his name and see him run out on the field. It’s great to have him back and I think it will be pretty emotional for all the fans.”
If they’re all lucky, they’ll see Griffey hit his 400th home run as a Mariner.
What Griffey wants most, however, is another good all-around game for a team that has surprised some people by playing well in a 5-2 start.
“When you get good pitching and good defense, you’re going to win,” he said. “We’ve gotten pretty good pitching and defense.”
Griffey is batting only .133 after the first week, but he leads the team with six walks and is second among starters with a .381 on-base percentage. His influence in the clubhouse, along with veteran Mike Sweeney, has been just as important.
“He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer who comes into the clubhouse acting like he’s one of the kids here,” said relief pitcher David Aardsma, himself one of the pleasant surprises with two saves already. “He keeps it lively. No matter what happens, he’s still smiling. He and Sweeney are the heart and soul of this team.”
Griffey, who’ll probably start in left field today, doesn’t return at age 39 as the same player he was 10 years ago. He won’t scale the outfield wall like he once did or sprint home from first base like did to win the 1995 Division Series over the Yankees.
What Griffey brings to this team is an example of an unselfish style the Mariners need to play _ and have played in the first week _ to succeed this season.
“I look at the situation and if we’re down by three and I’m the first guy up, I’ve got to try to get on and not try to hit a home run,” Griffey said during an interview at spring training. “Two guys on? Then I’ve got to try to stretch it out. Winning run on first or second, I’ve got to try to hit the ball to the right side to move the guy over. It’s all about taking care of the guy behind you, making his job easier.
“Defensively, get the ball in as fast as possible. Every now and then, climb the wall. Or every now and then, stop before you hit the wall.
“I’m the same person I was before. I haven’t changed,” he said. “I still prefer not to answer questions about me.”