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Dave Boling: Seattle Mariners immortalize Ken Griffey Jr. and his sweet swing

UPDATED: Thu., April 13, 2017

In this April 13, 2017 file photo, a statue of Seattle Mariners Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. stands in front of the home plate entrance to Safeco Field in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
In this April 13, 2017 file photo, a statue of Seattle Mariners Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. stands in front of the home plate entrance to Safeco Field in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
By Dave Boling Tacoma News Tribune

Ken Griffey Jr. stood outside Safeco Field on Thursday afternoon in flesh and bronze.

He was humbled by the Mariners’ gesture of erecting his statue, delighted with the pose and the likeness.

But really, it was almost an impossible challenge, given the limitations of the medium.

By its nature, the statue had to be a static representation of an athlete who was sublimely kinetic, all well-oiled cogs and levers that produced seemingly effortless power out of a stick of wood.

How to capture that grace and fluidity?

Maybe they could have creatively co-opted some Calder mobile techniques that allowed the figure of Griffey to rotate and unleash that full-range home-run swing whenever the wind blew.

There were other options. Perhaps they could have placed it closer to Safeco Field and had him pounding in rivets with his bat, symbolic of how very real his efforts were tied to the stadium’s birth.

Some with long memories for slights might suggest they could have had the statue with its back turned waving good-bye to Mariners fans on his way to Cincinnati. But that’s all bronze under the bridge now.

Griffey said he assumed this would be the pose that was chosen, him contorted in the follow-through of a home run swing. One of him crashing into the center-field wall for a fly ball in the Kingdome would be unseemly, he joked.

He liked the way his statue’s eyes are following the ball at an upward trajectory, he guessed, that would have sent it about 450 feet, or with the way the statue is positioned, well over the top of the KING 5 building across First Avenue.

Knowing that from this day forward his likeness will occupy that spot “… is a little frightening,” Griffey said. “I was shocked the organization would do something like that for me. It was overwhelming to see something like that.”

Sculptor Lou Cella also did the Dave Niehaus statue in the center field concourse. “My two passions in life are sculpting and baseball,” he said.

Cella has worked with the Rotblatt-Amrany studio in Chicago, the folks who created the Michael Jordan statue outside the United Center, which truly captures Jordan’s power of flight.

Capturing Griffey at bat, Cella had to focus on recreating the twisted positioning, and then try to bring life to the piece through Griffey’s eyes.

Griffey said he was stunned when the Mariners approached him with the idea. And he repeated his default comment for times such as his number being retired and his Hall of Fame announcement and induction: “I played because I loved the game of baseball.”

Everything else has been gravy. Or in this case, life-sized bronze on a base of marble.

The Mariners noted that the Griffey monument was the first statue of a Seattle sports star in front of the stadium in which he played.

Griffey was sincerely and genuinely humbled. And fans are going to love it.

This was a wonderful idea by the Mariners that was executed well.

The statue stands as a permanent connection to a time when the face of the franchise was indisputably extraordinary. It captures a moment, not only in a singular time, but one that was repeated 630 times.

Fans can use that. It can divert their minds from times like the slow start the Mariners are in right now.

Yes, times like now, when the frozen statue of Griffey, if wheeled to the plate, would have a batting average only .083 below their current center fielder, Leonys Martin.

Griffey was one for the ages. One to be remembered.

And now his likeness will stand for generations.

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