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Return of Griffey

Return of Griffey
At 3:21 p.m. PST Paradise Savoring Time Ken Griffey Jr. took the long jog back home.

The iconic Mariner emerged from fog and ran down a red carpet that extended from the right-center field wall to the infield. In those 10 seconds, 20 years of memories and appreciation spilled over from the Safeco Field crowd. Parents introduced their children to the man they idolized. Grown men cried. Creative fans stood and exposed makeshift Griffey jerseys they had made with masking tape and Sharpie pens.

They cheered him for about a minute 45,958 fans turning back the clock, clapping, screaming and whistling. Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu looked at Griffey and saw a smile crease his face. Yes, it was a special day.

"My first thought was not to trip on the red carpet," Griffey said afterward. "Got a compliment from my son about my big-league trot."

Thirty-two minutes later, Griffey came to the plate, walking from the home dugout to the batter's box for the first time in a decade, and a standing ovation greeted him. He removed his helmet, tipped it to the crowd and turned in the direction of a sign that said, "Welcome Home Jr. We Love You."

And after that, he retreated into himself, into the singular focus that has made him a surefire Hall of Famer, and made the game simple again. When he swung for the first time and missed, the crowd let out a collective ohhhhhh!

When Los Angeles Angels pitcher Shane Loux fell behind 3-1 in the count and stalled by throwing to first base, the crowd booed. But Griffey stayed relaxed. On the next pitch, he served a single down the right-field line and created a roar.

A hit in his first at-bat? How wonderful.

"Why wouldn't I?" Griffey asked, shrugging.

He couldn't help reminding us that we're talking about a man with 2,683 career hits, 612 of them home runs. It was also game No. 2,527 for Junior, so though it started in storybook fashion, Griffey wasn't going to let it turn him mushy inside.

"I didn't have any thoughts or chill bumps," he said. "Well, chill bumps, yeah from being cold."

C'mon, really?

"After 20 years of doing this, I've pretty much got it down pat now," Griffey insisted.

As usual, Griffey's presence dominated his words. He went 1 for 3 with a walk Tuesday nothing dramatic, just solid but more importantly, the Mariners won 3-2 in 10 innings and improved their record to 6-2. The game framed the season perfectly.

In 2009, it's all about Griffey.

But it's not about Griffey.

You can relish his comeback. You can stand every time he comes to the plate. You can giggle the entire season. But he's not here to be a savior. He's here to unite this team and tap the bottle of his talent to see if there's any left.

For once, the great Ken Griffey Jr. can't do it all by himself.

It's quite possible his greatest impact will be felt, not seen. His numbers matter, of course. However, if he's to improve on his legacy during this revival season, he's just as likely to do it with his professionalism as he is to do it by hitting 40 home runs.

"It's not about me," Griffey said. "It's about us as a unit. That's the most important thing. Everybody wanted to ask me what it's like to be back. But I've got to try to keep a level head, not get too high or too low. Just try to maintain and be me. And part of being me is not letting a whole lot of you guys into my world."

Oh, but his world isn't all about humility and aloofness. Griffey felt the love Tuesday. Wakamatsu could tell. He saw it on his face.

"It was electric there," Wakamatsu said.

"When Griffey went through there, I wanted to clap, and I had goose bumps. It was pretty phenomenal."

It wasn't perfect. It wasn't awe-inspiring. But it was right.

In the eighth inning, with the game tied at 2, Griffey had an opportunity to do something spectacular. With so much energy in the ballpark, it felt like he might just hit a game-winning homer. But he struck out and left the heroism to Franklin Gutierrez and Yuniesky Betancourt.

"Things happen," Griffey said of the strikeout. "I was just trying to get the game over with. I knew we were going to win."

Yeah, and next he'll be saying that he aspires to mimic Betancourt's walkoff bunt.

Your icon is home. The Mariners are hot. If the good times continue, Griffey might have to admit to having chill bumps.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: April 16, 2009

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