In 1993 I was 9-years-old. I already loved watching baseball, but really hadn’t settled on one team. My dad watched the Yankees and so did I, but other members of my family watched the Mets so I watched a fair amount of them too.
The problem with both of those teams though was that Don Mattingly already had started looking like I missed his best years and Darryl Strawberry had already been out of town for a number of years. At that point somebody else started to draw my interest away from both New York teams – Ken Griffey Jr.
By the start of that season Griffey was already a household name with 87 home runs and seemingly as many highlight reel catches. He was exciting to watch and unlike Mattingly and Strawberry I was there to watch him in his prime. I didn’t have to rely on hazy memories and stories from family members.
So on May 2nd that year I talked my dad into taking me to a game at Yankee Stadium with the Seattle Mariners in town to see Griffey. We drove to the stadium early that morning and bought tickets about 15 rows behind home plate that day (you could do something like that back then, tickets were less than $20 too). As the game grew closer I found something out though, Griffey hurt his wrist just two days before and they didn’t know if he was going to play that day.
Sure enough when they announced the lineup some jerk named Henry Cotto was playing center field. I was heart broken. But something else was about to happen that I was not prepared for, I became a full blown Yankees fan.
See, the Yankees had their new ace Jimmy Key on the hill that day and when you’re nine you don’t actually know what a curveball is. That day, sitting 15 rows behind home plate, I found out what a curveball was as Key dominated the Mariners for eight innings and two runs.
The game itself was also very exciting and ended in the 10th inning when the Yankees own young center fielder, Bernie Williams, drove in the winning run with a walk-off walk. Not the best ending I have ever seen, but the beauty of Key’s performance and the Yankees fighting until the very end won me over.
From that point on I couldn’t care less what Griffey and the Mariners did. As far as I was concerned the only time I ever wanted to see Griffey again was with two outs and nobody on base. He had become the enemy and I had become a full blown Yankees fan.
This wasn’t about bitterness. Griffey got hurt and I understood that. But he wasn’t there and the Yankees were. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if he had played. I grew up about an hour away from Yankee Stadium so chances are that I would have eventually become a fan anyways. Griffey didn’t play that day and the Yankees barely came out ahead. If he had played who knows what would have happened. He might have hit a few into the seats, I might not have been impressed by Key, and the Yankees might have lost that game.
All I know is Griffey Jr made me a Yankees fan by not playing that day.
We’d love to hear your Ken Griffey Jr stories. If you have your own, please share it with us in the comments section following this post. It’ll be our way to honor one of the best players any of us will ever see.