“You don’t care about me/I don’t care about that/Gotta new fool, ha!/I like it like that.”
Every time the Seattle Mariners win at Safeco Field, Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” comes blaring through the stadium’s sound system. Yesterday, leaving after the Mariners came from behind to win on the night the franchise retired Ken Griffey, Jr.’s number, I thought of how strange it was to be a fan of the team these days.
Yesterday, Junior received the highest honor possible from a team he walked away from twice. Yesterday, word broke of a press conference scheduled for this morning in regards to Alex Rodriguez. Yesterday, Ichiro!, the most recent Mariners great-turned-deserter, notched his 2,999th career hit.
Today, the potential became official: A-Rod’s being released by the end of the week. Ichiro! tripled for his 3,000th. In a 24-hour span, the three greatest hitters to ever wear a Mariners uniform made exactly the news I’d been hoping to hear for so long. Glory for Griffey. Ignominy for A-Rod. Yet another hit for Ichiro!.
And as for the four games I attended this week? Mostly afterthoughts, as is typical for the franchise.
As I said good night to my mom at her hotel last night, I noted that it had been a good stretch for us. Our team won every game we went to this week—aided, of course, by our dual loyalties to the Red Sox and Mariners. Wednesday and Thursday, we couldn’t lose. (We also couldn’t win.)
Before the season started, I bought tickets to only two games: Opening Day, and Griffey Day. I knew the latter would be historic, that the Mariners organization would strike the perfect tone for the festivities, at least until the game started, when the Mariners would inevitably give up a home run in the first half inning. The challenge, though, was trying to explain the greatness of Griffey to my mother.
I moved to Seattle a season and a half after he left, and only witnessed him at the end of his decline, after he’d moved all the way down the defensive spectrum to DH. But those final two years, you could see his legacy at the ballpark, simply because of the attendance. The number of jerseys and shirts, dug out from the back of the closet after he returned. The standing ovations when he was introduced as a pinch-hitter. The smiles, on his face and the fans’.
After the 1994-1995 strike, I gave up on baseball until I moved to Seattle, sucked back in by Ichiro!’s 2001 team. And yet, even so, I remember wanting Griffey sneakers as a kid. Griffeys and Pennys, that was it. Forget Air Jordans. I lived 2,000 miles away from Seattle, had never even set foot in the city, and had given up on baseball, but I wanted Ken Griffey, Jr. shoes. That was how big he was. But that kind of transcendence is hard to explain to your mom.
Some day, maybe I’ll wind up telling my kids about Mike Trout, about how he hit three-run homers against the Mariners in the first inning of consecutive games I attended on Ken Griffey, Jr. weekend. Some day, maybe I’ll tell them about how some Kennewick kid named Shawn O’Malley, who toiled in the minors for eight years before first getting called up, who only played that day because the Mariners’ real shortstop had mono, saved the game twice on the day Griffey’s number went on the railing, never to come down.
Some day, I’ll see another number up there, as Randy Johnson and Ichiro share the same honor. Maybe Edgar and Felix, too. Some day, I’ll struggle to explain to someone else how great these players were, just as I did this week. But those days are far in the future.
For now, I’ll take another week that includes a Mariners sweep. More wins than losses, and maybe a shot at the playoffs. Because, as I’ve noted before, I’ve been staring at the exact same banners since I first set foot in Safeco. And if they’re redecorating, why stop with some new wall art?