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November 11, 2010 at 10:27 AM

Mariners need to bring Ken Griffey Jr. back into the “family”

The sad part of life, as many of you already know, is that it sometimes takes the passing of someone special to get others to reconnect. We’ve all heard stories about families in desperate need of a reunion, who simply can’t find the time or energy to get it done, but then are suddenly forced back together on a somber afternoon because of the passing of a matriarch or patriarch who’d held them together by a distant common bond.
Dave Niehaus was that patriarch for a Mariners organization replete with star players, but devoid of on-field success for so many of its 34 seasons. Niehaus represented the very soul of what the Mariners hoped to be when games were being played and when they weren’t. As Jamie Moyer said last night, Niehaus put everything he had into furthering the organization, whether it was through Hall of Fame standards in the broadcast booth, or devotion to Northwest baseball fans and charities away from it.
Niehaus was the bond holding the at-times loosely-knit Mariners family together. And now, that family has lost a huge part of its very soul.
And that’s why, when the flow of tributes for Niehaus subsides a bit and the Northwest begins to come to grips with what has happened, the Mariners should expedite efforts to bring Ken Griffey Jr. back into their “family” as quickly as possible. It struck me while looking at the photo of Niehaus and Griffey from 1991 spring training yesterday just how linked those two icons are to the very fabric of this franchise and region.
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And I felt it again yesterday when listening to Griffey speak on ESPN 710 radio, with Shannon Drayer and Matt Pittman, about his feeling for Niehaus and understanding of where they all stood in the grand scheme of things.
“He meant everything. Everybody talks about the players who went there and the players who left, but he made the Mariners who they are. Without him, the guys out there are nothing. Day in and day out he brought the excitement and drove thousands and millions of people to the ballpark to come watch us. It’s tough because he’s like that grandfather to all of us especially Jay, me, Edgar and Dan and so many other Mariners, he was like our grandfather. He would give you a little bit of advice, and he was tough on you when he needed to be. This is a day that I was hoping would never come. It’s just a sad day for all of us, not just his family, but for everybody in the great Northwest.”
Now, there are plenty of athletes who know how to say the right thing at the right time. But listening to Griffey yesterday, I could tell it was from the heart. That’s the thing about Griffey that I’ve come to realize in the brief time I’ve seen him up close. He can be very humble, despite actions that, at times, make him appear to be the opposite. He does understand his place in the world. That he’s just a ballplayer, no matter how great he was at it. A mere mortal in the grand scheme of things. He gets it. Not all athletes do.
I’ve heard too many good things about Griffey behind the scenes, the stories of how he’s helped people without seeking recognition for it, not to accept that basic truth about him. And hearing his words yesterday, it made me remember that all over again.
And I guess that’s why the events of this past summer were so disappointing. It just didn’t seem worthy of the legacy Griffey had built for himself for so many years, both on and off the field. Whoever was right, or wrong, in the end, the entire episode fell beneath the standards of what a surefire Hall of Fame career is supposed to represent. So, it leaves us disappointed. Leaves us angry. For a time, anyway. That’s where perspective comes in, both on our part and on his. A few disappointing weeks don’t erase 20 years. Whether those weeks occured last summer, or in 1999, or whatever.
How many of us, in real life, haven’t been disappointed by something one of our beloved family members does? Maybe they keep doing it over and over as well, compounding the disappointment. But in the end, we leave the door open for reconcilliation. On our part and on theirs. Because life, as we learned once again yesterday, is too fragile and short to carry on grudges forever. Nothing is forever.
In Griffey’s case, he’s one of the good guys. He knows it. Those who he’s helped over the years know it. And those he’s hurt over the years — including fans last summer — deep down know it, too. If he wasn’t one of the good ones, they wouldn’t care.
But he’s family.
Photo Credit: AP

And at some point in coming weeks, sooner rather than later, the family — both the Mariners and the Northwest sports community at large — needs him back. Needs him to restore some of the soul that was lost yesterday.
Griffey alone can’t replace the loss of Niehaus. Nothing ever will, which is why the broadcaster’s death triggered such an outpouring of emotion from fans in a region not always known for such displays.
But Griffey can help.
He doesn’t have to live here full-time. Doesn’t have to take a daily coaching job. He just has to be here for the family in its time of need and in the weeks and months ahead. Both in mind and in spirit. Has to help it get over its loss and carry forward. He has to let it know that, whatever ill-feelings he harbored last summer, he’s been reminded, through perspective, that they really don’t matter in the bigger picture. That he’s forgiven and forgotten.
And that works both ways as well.
I have no doubt that Mariners president Chuck Armstrong would bring Griffey back to the fold in a heartbeat. But it’s going to take more than that. The Northwest region needs to want Griffey to come back. Needs to bury many of those same inner feelings as well. Because their disappointment, both last summer and in 1999, was genuine and largely justified. They will need to see commitment beyond one or two token appearances a year by Griffey at gladhanding events. They will need to be shown, through more heartfelt sincerity, that Griffey really does view the Mariners as his family.
I think he does.
It’s tough to remember at times like this, but Dave Niehaus wasn’t always a grandfather. Wasn’t always the perfect ambassador for a baseball team and an entire region of sports fans. Niehaus was young once, too. And as he was developing into the person we’re all going to miss so much, there had to be a mistake or two along the way. There were inevitably decisions made that he came to regret through experience and the intelligence gained through living a long, fulfilling life.
Griffey, by his own admission, is just the “grandson” in this equation. He’s made a mistake or two along the way. Hurt some people. But we all learn from our mistakes and this is his opportunity. His chance to be more like the “grandfather” he talked about so eloquently on the radio yesterday.
The past 20 years or so was a great start in that direction. And I can tell you, from having spoken to Niehaus personally about Griffey on multiple occasions, that he admired him as a man. Maybe like a grandson. Or even a son.
A Prodigal Son, perhaps. That son needs to come home. We don’t get to pick our family members. But we do get to need them when life throws us a curve. And now, more than ever, this team, this region, needs Griffey to be the icon and man they’ve always envisioned him becoming.
There just aren’t enough of those to go around. And too often, you have to lose one of them to realize it.



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