Sports

Hey Junior, will you sign my hat?

I have a Griffey story.

It was in the late summer of 1989 and I was fishing on the Elwha River with most of the family camping at Altaire.

I was up in the canyon above the campground when I tried to climb between two very, very large boulders next to the bank, slipped and dislocated my right shoulder.

Luckily I was fishing with Christopher, son No. 3, and he helped guide me up to the road, ran to get the car and drove me to Olympic Memorial Hospital.

I remember the day because just a few days before the trip Jim Lunt of Port Angeles Little League had asked me to represent Port Angeles Little League and throw out the first ball of a game in the Kingdome.

Of course, I, the former P.A. Roughriders' slick-fielding second sacker, a veteran of many a Port Angeles Merchant's fast pitch league season and outstanding slow pitch hurler, jumped at the chance.

As I sat in the hospital waiting for help, I said to myself, "Self: how are you going to throw out the first pitch?"

To make a long story longer, I healed up well enough by the time I came to pitch the first ball, even though I bounced it up to the plate as the arm wasn't very strong after all. I don't even remember who was supposed to catch my errant throw, but it could've been Dan Wilson, the outstanding Mariner catcher.

I remember it well because as I was prowling the depths of the Kingdome to find the door to the field from the Mariner clubhouse (the locker room is called a clubhouse in major league baseball and don't ask me why) I encountered a young, full-of-life, smiling-a-mile-wide Mariner named - you guessed it - Ken Griffey Jr.

He had made the club out of spring training and was having a great first year at bat and in the field. I was thrilled at the chance meeting outside the clubhouse.

I quickly took off the P.A. Little League hat Lunt had given me and whipped out my trusty pen and asked Griffey if he could sign on the bill. He quickly obliged and I still have that hat tucked away in my armoire. Now, I could not ask for an autograph as media types are forbidden unless approved by the press relations department.

Griffey Jr. soon became the picture of the Mariners with his outstanding defensive fielding gems in center and, of course, he started to hit the ball with authority and even he marveled at some of the long balls he lofted into the right field bleachers.

Then he tired of Seattle, wanted to move close to family and, after a 10-year career, left for Cincinnati in 1999. Now he is back as a 39-year-old designated hitter and maybe part-time left fielder.

Junior still has several Mariner individual batting records: Season: most total bases, 393; most home runs, 56 in 1997/1998; most extra base hits 93; highest slugging percentage, .674 in 111 games in 1994; most home runs in the Kingdome, 30 and most home runs on the road, 29; and, of course, most consecutive games hitting a home run, eight in July 1993.

Can he match those marks this year? No. He's not "The Kid" anymore, but he still has some pop from the left side of the plate and he is one heck of a lot better at the dish than anyone the Mariners have had since Edgar Martinez was the designated hitter.

Griffey always has been a situational hitter. Mark my word: When there is a runner in scoring position and Griffey is at bat, he will get the guy home ... maybe not with a homer, but he's a terrific singles and doubles hitter and his long outfield outs will get a guy in from third.

Will he help stabilize a clubhouse that was full of jealousy last year? Maybe. I always remember his Kingdome cubicle next to Jay Buhner. Griffey had the big, easy reclining rocker with full arms and took it to Safeco Field with him.

Griffey always was in early and held court before batting practice in the dugout with reporters and writers and always had a story or a joke. I doubt he will remember me come opening day, but he might.

He always thought I was a visiting writer from Boston as he always asked me about the Red Sox.

Ticket sales jumped right away at the announcement of his signing and I remember the three days in 2007 when the Reds visited Safeco and Griffey received a huge, long, standing ovation the first time he was introduced.

He will get another loud, long, standing ovation when the Mariners open April 14 against the Angels. It will be even louder and longer if Griffey can help the Mariners to wins in Minnesota and Oakland when the season opens.

Can he make a big difference? Is he too old to make a big difference? Only time will tell, but it could be a fun season for Mariner fans and Griffey Jr.

He has incentives to try and do his best as attendance figures are tied to extra bucks and, as this could be the last year of his fabulous career, making the most money he can muster might be foremost in his mind.



Columns by KONP 1450 AM sports announcer Scooter Chapman appear weekly in the Sequim Gazette. He can be reached via e-mail at scooter@olypen.com.

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