Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's bittersweet

I wanted Junior gone. His death signal antics were the final straw. But I haven't been one of the typical Junior haters. I wrote this when he visited Seattle last year:

On Junior

Now's as good a time as any to write about my long Griffey fandom and the beautiful Mariner's poster that used to hang over my bed in high school. I graduated in 1995, so I guess you could say I was an early follower.

It all started with baseball cards. When I was in 8th grade, a friend of mine who happened to be a boy got a lot of my Griffey cards. Junior was in his second season when I started the school year, and I knew about him only because his father was playing for the Reds at the time. I knew about Senior and the Big Red Machine, of course, as my awareness of that team pretty much had come when I saw all the hoopla about Pete coming back. By the time Junior put on a Major League uniform, Pete had disgraced himself and was out of baseball for good. I'll never forget the scandal and the impression it made on my young mind. But I digress.

This friend of mine, Jeremy was his name, traded for most of my Junior cards, which of course were rookie cards. Back then, the American league was pretty foreign - the Mariners more so because they were so far away from Dayton, Ohio. But soon after I traded my cards, I began to wonder about what was so special about this guy that made Jeremy want those cards. Yeah, I know, I wondered too late - should have thought about it BEFORE I traded for all of those Paul O'Neill cards. Sure, Paul was a great player, but he was no Junior!

I also noticed that Junior was gracing the cover of every sports magazine. (I'm glad I saved a bunch of them.) I read everything I could about him, and very early in his career I began to dream of him coming home and playing for my - and his father's - Cincinnati Reds. I bought a beautiful Costacos Brothers poster of him, lots of Mariner teal and green, and hung it above my bed. He was right in the center, where not even Barry or Brett Boone hung. It was there for several years.

One Saturday night when I was gone, so were my parents, and my sister had a party. Someone stole that poster, which today could probably sell on ebay for $$$. I don't care about that, though. I want that poster. My sister bought me another poster to replace the stolen one, but it wasn't the same. I've tried looking for a copy of the poster but have never found one. (Perhaps I should post on Craigslist Seattle?)

The day we got Junior was one of the greatest days in my life as a Reds fan. Junior was going to be wearing red when he broke Aaron's record, and I just knew I would be at that game to see it when it happened. Seven years later, we all know what heartbreak this has been, but you know what? I don't regret Junior coming to the Reds - quite the opposite. I feel lucky that I've been able to see him play on a regular basis, not like when he was in Seattle and the odd Mariners game came on ESPN.

This year we are getting to see the Junior we have waited to see for so long, and it has been a blessing. But that 'what if' will always poison any success he has as a Red, for he has missed 350 games since he's donned the Cincinnati uniform, and 350 games is a lot of home runs!

I hope Seattle fans give him a five minute standing ovation when he is announced this evening. I plan on watching the game tonight. Even with the heartbreak, he's had an amazing career.
I attended the Reds game the day after he hit 600. That was Junior's game. It felt like we were saying goodbye at that game.

There will always be the what ifs.

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