Monday, August 29, 2005

He is Risen
By Zach

Without a doubt, one of the worst days of my life was February 10, 2000. It was the date that would irrevocably sever my childhood from the rest of my life. The date that I knew, for certain, that sports could be a cruel torture, that they could take and give and take again. I'd like to think that it was a day of thunderstorms, but knowing Seattle Februarys, it was probably just gray and drizzly. Listening to KJR 950 AM that afternoon, what had been anticipated, but not fully accepted, became reality. The Seattle Mariners, and the youth of one Zachary Geballe had been traded to Cincinnati for some unknown prospects and unknown futures. His face decorated my wall, His sweet swing the aesthetic parallel of Da Vinci or Picasso. His smile, luminous under the pile of joyous bodies, was all the proof I needed that good could happen in this too-often painful world.

When the boy came to Seattle, he met the Kid. Oh, not in person. The Kid was as removed as any god in the sky. He accomplished his Olympian feats in a sort of isolation. The mortals who wore his uniform were naught but fools imitating divinity. And for a six-year-old boy who'd left his home, his friends, and the only family he'd known 3000 miles behind, he became the promise that was this new home, this new place. He might not know the other children he went to school with, but he knew the Kid, and they knew the Kid, so they knew each other.

His accomplishments as barely more than a child were breathtaking. He scaled tall walls in a single bound, hit fastballs coming at speeds greater then any locomotive, and delivered bullets from the patch of plastic he roamed. When the Kid was united with the Father, miracles became commonplace. The Kid defied Youth, and the Father defied Age, and all marveled.

Eventually, others with tantalizing skills surrounded the Kid. He lifted them to new heights, and when He was not able to be with them, His mere presence seemed to lift them. When He returned, he thrilled the boy, no longer six but eleven, with exploits unknown in this new home. They triumphed, first over their (inept) Past, then over Evil itself. He was joined by other, lesser gods wielding blazing fastballs or doubles down the left-field line.

The boy, and the city, believed that there was nothing He could not do, nothing He could not provide. And yet, He was not enough. But it almost did not matter. His presence was indelibly stamped upon the very soul of the boy.

Years passed, and as the Kid became a Man, the boy became a teen. And while neither could seem to fully recover the magic of childhood, the bond became tighter, as members of the team slowly drifted away. Such is life, and such is baseball, and both knew it to be true.

Then came a wintery day in late 1999. The boy, opening the paper expecting to read about the fatness of Vin Baker or the mediocrity of the Seahawks, instead learned that He wanted to leave. The Kid, who had saved the team, had saved baseball in Seattle, wanted to return home. Tired of being persecuted by the ownership, he wanted to return to his Father, to his family, to his home. The boy, now sixteen, cried that day, cried at the dining room table, for the death of childhood and the small part of his soul that was gone for good.

So this brings us back to February 10, 2000. The Seattle Mariners traded Ken Griffey Jr, the greatest player in their history, the greatest player of the 1990s, for Mike Cameron, Jake Meyer, Antonio Perez, Brett Tomko, and 30 pieces of silver. Seattle mourned, Cincinnati rejoiced at the return of their prodigal son, and baseball was never the same.

After the pain of His departure wore off, I looked for new gods. One came from a far-off land, and played the game with a zeal that reminded me of Him. Still, it wasn't the same. Meanwhile, He was learning that being a Kid sometimes doesn't last. It pained me to see Him lose year after year to injury. Eventually, I despaired of ever seeing Him return to even a fraction of His ability. Heretics began to claim that His greatness was not enough to ensure immortality, that the feats of His youth were obscured by the struggles of His later years.

Every so often, rumors of His return would circulate. While no one was sure whether He would want to return, or if He would be welcomed back, the rumors were devoured. While the other lesser deities had all either retired, or left and returned wearing strange, garish uniforms, He had stayed away.

And then came 2005. By this point, almost all had written Him off. He was a joke, a moral to the story that young players should work hard to stay in shape even when everything comes easily to them. Many thought He shouldn't even start on His own team. The fans in His hometown knew him only as a constant disappointment. Still, the boy held his breath, hoping this would be His Year.

He started slowly, hitting just .244 with one home run in April. May brought some hope, .283 and 7 home runs. Better yet, He hadn't gotten hurt. A few people noticed, but only to joke that sooner or later He would once again have to limp off the field, His greatness lost. June, .303 and 6, and July, .300 and 9. Suddenly, people were saying He was back. His past greatness was rediscovered, He had been reborn. August, so far, has meant .370 and 10. His season, at 35: .302/.371/.578 with 33 home runs. Yesterday, he hit his 534th career home run to tie Jimmie Foxx for 13th on the all time list.

It's hard to say how much I've enjoyed watching Junior from afar this year. His resurrection into an all-star calibur player again has rivaled King Felix as far as my favorite things about this baseball season go. But more than that, for a young man living 3000 miles away from Seattle and 10 years after the greatest sports moment in my life, it's been amazing to look at the Griffey posters on my wall and have them mean something more then that the Past is past.

I latched onto Junior because more then being a great player, he never seemed to stop having fun on the field. For a kid, nothing could be more alluring. He seemed to prove that all those people who said that eventually I'd have to grow up and do something serious were wrong. He was the Pied Piper, Peter Pan, whomever. And his being back makes me think that I too can recapture some of my childhood love of sports, when I didn't particularly care about salary caps, or steroids, or offseason arrests.

While writing this post, I looked back through some of the old newspapers I have from 1995, as well as 2000, when he left. I cried, and smiled. I think it's enough to say that I don't think any other athlete has affected my life as profoundly as Junior has, and whether it was the glory of his youth, the agony and pain of the last four years, when he showed us that even gods can be mortals, or the unexpected joy of this year, it's been quite a ride.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Zach,

Well written piece and your emotions come through loud and clear. It's great to see good things happen to good people, and to be able to thumb one's nose at the wet blanket nay-sayers. I didn't totally appreciate just how important the Kid was to your childhood, or how traumatic his departure to your sense of well-being and alls-right-with-the-world-ness. But now I get it. Here's hoping we can both be at SAFECO Field together the day Griffey returns to play for the first time since the day he asked to leave.

Love always,
Your Mom

5:18 PM  
Blogger RotoAuthority said...

Great article Zach. Very well written. I can tell how crushing it was to see your hero dealt. Reminds me of when I was 12 and Sandberg retired outta nowhere. And then the players went on strike compound it. I don't think anyone saw this coming from Griffey as you said. I hope he gets dealt to the Sox so maybe he can work some postseason magic. Felix the next big exciting player it seems.

11:45 PM  

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