Those that know me well know that one of my favorite things on the planet is baseball. And my all time favorite player is Ken Griffey Jr. Today as I write this the vote will be revealed and Jr. will be headed to the Hall of Fame. So it felt appropriate to tell my favorite Ken Griffey Jr. story today:
It was right in the middle of his prime. Ken Griffey Jr. as part of the Seattle Mariners was coming to Anaheim to take on my Angels. The stage was set for an epic battle. Randy Johnson on the mound for the M’s. Chuck Finley on the mound for the halos. Two great lefties and arguably the greatest player of a generation roaming center field.
I knew I had to be there. So I gathered some friends together, bought some tickets and headed to the “Big A.” Now you have to realize, this was 1995. The Angels were still a long ways from their first World Series so the fan base was a little thin. All that meant for me was that despite my cheap seat ticket, we were able to make our way to about 8 rows behind the Mariner’s dugout.
Randy Johnson was dealing. But so was Chuck Finley. And he appeared to have Ken Griffey’s number. A strikeout in the 1st inning. The fans around us were all over Griffey. Another strikeout in the 4th. Now one particular fan was giving Griffey all kinds of grief. Every inning as he’d leave the dugout to head out into the field this guy would heckle as loud as he could. When the inning was over and Griffey would come back to the dugout – more heckling.
“Hey Griffey, Finley’s going to strike you out again!”
“Griffey, you’re going to strike out for a third time!”
Now, these guys are professionals. They are paid to tune this kind of thing out. It happens everywhere they go all the time. So as funny as it is and as much fun as we’re all having hearing this guy who has probably been a bit over-served, if you know what I mean, no one expects Griffey to even acknowledge this guy.
But that’s where the fun started. As Griffey is coming off the field we all know he’s due to lead off the 6th inning. This guy is laying into him with everything he’s got. “Griffey, if you strike out again you gotta give me an autograph!” And suddenly Griffey looks up, makes direct eye contact with the guy, and with a big old smile says “If I strike out again, I’ll give you the keys to my Mercedes.”
WHAT?!?! Did that just happen?
Of course, everyone around us is going nuts. We love it. Griffey is having fun and so are we. So when he makes his way up to bat our section is out of control. One strike. The taunting begins at a whole new level. Two strikes. Mr. Heckler is losing his mind. The rest of us are watching this moment as if it’s the most important moment in the history of baseball, when it reality it’s kind of a meaningless game in May. Chuck Finley goes into his windup, he delivers – STRIKE THREE. Griffey doesn’t even swing – he was totally fooled and strikes out looking. By now, my man in the stands and all the crowd around us have gone into a frenzy.
What now? What’s going to happen? What’s Griffey going to do? Did this guy really just get Griffey’s Mercedes?
Two more batters come up and are retired and out pops Griffey from the dugout on his way to center field. But just before he heads out to his position he stops, looks up at our section and tosses a ball to his loudest critic that day – autographed and personally delivered.
Ken Griffey Jr. hit over 600 home runs. He’s probably one of the top 3-4 baseball players in the history of the game. If it weren’t for injuries, he might have been the greatest. I saw Griffey play minor league ball in San Bernardino CA. I saw him hit homeruns and crash into walls making catches on TV. But the day I’ll never forget is when he struck out three times and still managed to be the most entertaining player on the field.
**After much digging, I found the box score to this game here.