September 9, 2013 at 12:45 PM
Me and Junior: A Seattle kid’s fantasy, a rude awakening
By Nate Garberich
Nate Garberich is a co-creator and editor of Subparjournalism.com. After graduating from Gonzaga University in 2012, he spent a year traveling in South America and in the Southern U.S. on bicycle. He is writing a book about his trip.
As a kid growing up in Seattle I planned on becoming the next Ken Griffey Jr.
My dad took me to a game at the massive Kingdome a few times a year to watch Junior hold court. Of course, by “watch Junior” I actually mean “watch Junior on the JumboTron,” as my father’s frugality meant sitting in the Summit Section, 12,239 meters above field level. Luckily, we had a concrete wall to lean against after the trek to our seats.
My father justified his seating choice not for austerity measures, but rather out of a desire to sit with the “real fans.” Apparently the loyal fans all sat above the tree line. Our proximity to the action didn’t stop me from cheering for the M’s at an obnoxious volume. The seagulls would look up from their leftover peanuts and glare at me.
I always brought my trusty leather glove, acquired by my thrifty father at “Play it Again Sports.” One always had to have a glove handy with Junior at the plate. Even the seagulls knew he could launch one into the skyscrapers.
The day after a game found me in my backyard. A casual observer, like say, my next-door neighbor Steve, may have thought it weird for a kid to spend hours tossing partially rotting apples up into the air before hitting them with a blue plastic bat. I was convinced I was the next Junior. Pitch after pitch, I launched over the Kingdome fence into Steve’s yard. Between innings Griffey and I hung out in the dugout. He’d tell the team that even he didn’t have that kind of bat speed at my age.
“Kid’s got more tools than Home Depot,” Grif would say.
Then he’d flash that trademark smile, offer me a wad of Big League Chew, and invite me to join him in signing autographs for little kids who weren’t as athletically gifted.
At the end of apple season I’d take the mound, located on the side deck, to work on my pitching. Steve would ask how I could spend so many hours throwing a ball against a fence. But I didn’t hear him. All I heard was the roar of crowd as I struck out another soulless Yankees batter in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 in the World Series. Unlike Griffey, I could also throw as hard as Randy Johnson. Derek Jeter would choke on his chew trying to catch up to my slider. With a third strike, I secured my spot in Major League Baseball history as the only player to hit for the cycle and throw a no-hitter in the same game. Catcher Dan Wilson ran out to the mound. A celebratory pig pile ensued, followed by a locker room juice-box fight.
In fifth grade, I signed up to play for a team sponsored by Burgermaster in the North East Seattle Little League. After going 0-for-the-season at the plate, I came to terms with the discrepancy between hitting lobbed apples and hitting live pitches.
The only time I successfully reached base came after taking a fastball to the face from Lester Janks of Berkman, Burger and Purdy.
“He’s the hardest throwing, most erratic pitcher in the league,” my coach had told me.
“Watch out for a wild pitch.”
I watched out for a wild pitch all right. I watched it meet my cheekbone and drop me to the ground like a duck shot by a belligerent hunter.
Laying limp and ruffled like a pile of laundry in the batter’s box, tears washing the sand off my bloody face, I realized I was not the next Ken Griffey Jr. I realized I did not like playing baseball half as much as I liked imagining and watching it.
Shortly after my first and only Little League season, I exchanged my major-league aspirations for journalistic ones. If I could not be the next Griffey, I hoped to at least interview and write about the next Griffey.
The closest I hoped to get to home plate would be in the press box, a section close enough to sea level to avoid a bloody nose, yet far from the field and erratic fastballs.
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