Friday, February 20, 2009

The Great Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr.

I love baseball. I love it in Safeco Park and I loved it at Oakland Coliseum. I loved baseball at Candlestick Park even though I froze my hiney off there, every single time I went. They played at another stadium whilst the lovely Candlestick was being constructed (Seals?) but it is Candlestick that I remember. Candlestick was constructed ever so carefully, having been built on a windswept point of land on San Francisco bay. It was placed just so…as the wind whistled past the point, it was scooped up by Candlestick, where it whipped around the bowl of the park a few times, picking up speed and lowering temperature, until it attained escape velocity. Watching a game at candlestick was it's own kind of punishing experience.

It was worth it. When I was around five, the Giants moved from NYC to San Francisco and they were OURS. I had been raised on Giant love, there just was no other team. Apparently my mom was raised the same way, and she lovingly passed her mania along to me. I don't remember dad caring one way or another about baseball. We loved the Giants as a family. Also as a family, we despised the Dodgers, our National league nemesis. The only team we hated more than the Dodgers was, The Yankees. We actually threw things at the television if a Yankee game was on. The only saving grace was that the Yankees were American league (where the pitchers didn't even hit for themselves, the sissies). Until the Oakland A's came to Oakland, we had little thought to spare for the Yankees…unless they made it into the World Series. At which time it was likely that they would come up against either the Giants or the Dodgers. If the Dodgers made it into the Series, we still hated them for a bit, but once they were up against the Yankees, all bets were off. Anything was better than a Yankee win.

I loved the Giants unreservedly. Willie Mays an astounding player. Every time I saw him play, I felt blessed to have been able to sit in the stands and watch such masterful play. And he was a gentleman, and a kind man. It beamed out of him. Orlando Cepeda. Felipe Alou, Jimmy Davenport, great players. I remember one game we were attending, and Jimmy Davenport hit a foul back over the back stop. It landed on a woman's head and knocked her out. I was ten or eleven at that time, and I remember thinking, why couldn't it have been me? I had a thing for Davenport. My own dad was missing at the time and I think he was a bit of a beloved father figure for me. When I read in the paper the next day that the woman was ok, and that Jimmy had visited her in the hospital, well then I really wished it had been me.

But I digress. I loved Willie Mays, and when Willie McCovey came along, our team just could not be beat. We thought. But the cursed Dodgers had Sandy Koufax. The Dodgers were very hard to beat with Koufax on the mound.

And I digress again! This isn't about how the games were on tv in the daytime back in those days, so that I was forced to fake a tummy ache or headache in order to be sent home from school, just so I could watch the game. I was that addicted and in my heart of hearts I still am.

While I keep the giants in mind, we're AmericaN league up here in Seattle, and the Mariners really have become my team, unless it's on of the interleague games and we're playing the Giants…then I'm in a bit of a quandary. But…I find Bonds to be off-putting, what can I say.

So one day, I took the kids to a single A game in Everett, WA. The team is the Everett Aquasox, and going to their games is like a trip back in time. Fun stuff. This day, Willie Mays was attending the game. He was just standing there on the other side of the chain link fence by the field, close enough to talk to. I screwed up my courage and did, telling him how much he'd meant to me through out the years and how glad I was to see him. What a gentleman. As often as this man must hear this , he treated me as if it was the first time he'd heard it. I had no camera with me., unfortunately, so his signature on a program is what I carried away, thank and the warmth inside that you have when you have met your hero, and he has been kind to you. I just love Willie.

Today the news of the day is that Ken Griffey Jr. has resigned with the Mariners. Safeco field is known as the field that Griffey built, he was that important at the time. But as the years went on, the grass got greener as his contract finished, and he chose to leave and play for the Cincinnati Reds. Well that was sort of going home for him, but we all felt burned and snarkey about it, as fans are wont to do. Ken was important to this club, and we've always missed him, and that's the truth.

It's been a few years more, and now Griffey is nearing the end of his career but looking for a team to spend the last years of his career with. Apparently the Mariners have been under consideration, and it was looking pretty good. But then, Hank Aaron invited him to Atlanta, in an attempt to lure him to the Braves. And it didn't look good for the Mariners.

And then, and then, this happened. I am relating this as I heard it on the tv…Chuck Armstrong is the general manager of the Mariners, and had been talking to Kenny pretty much daily. The pull of Atlanta was clearly growing. His phone rings, and it is Willie Mays. Mays says that he would like to talk to Griffey, and can he have the number? Now we have our own hall of famer, on our side. He Willie and Kenny had a long talk, where apparently Mays laid out how not finishing his career back with his original team was one of his biggest regrets, and would Kenny really think about that. And of course, they would have talked about much more than that (and we'll never know), but the upshot was this: Kenny called Armstrong back and after pulling his leg for a few minutes, told him that he was coming back. Armstrong said there he was standing in an airport talking to Griffey, and tears were coming down his face.

And I had tears coming down mind, just listening to Armstrong talk. Willie Mays had a hand in helping this along, and this makes me delighted to have Griffey back. Really, really happy. It's going to be a great year. I may have to squeeze some money out of the budget for some tickets this year J But I will be there on the tv.

I'd like to give Willie Mays a big ole hug, and I doubt that I am the only one. Thanks, Willie.


Wonderful read. Did you know that the only games I have been to have been with you in the now imploded King Dome?


Remember how we wondered if all the players were Mormons? One of the games we went to was one of my all time favorite games. We watched the pitcher warming up, and he was looking amazing. He allowed one hit in the first inning, and I said 'there goes the no hitter'. And indeed, that was true. What a performance!


Do you still have that baseball card collection? It was pretty amazing back in 1980 (or thereabouts)...I'll bet you have some great cards in there. I know you have the Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card; you showed it to me. Perhaps you can get it signed now.


I do have those cards, and really should get them out again. I feel that baseball excitement building! I have thousands of them, surely one or two or three are worth something. Can you say, travel money?


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