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Defining Moments of the Decade: Ken Griffey Jr. Retires

Ken Griffey Jr may be the most prodigious baseball talent of our lifetimes, and we were lucky enough to have him in Seattle.

Ken Griffey Jr.

It’s fair to say that anyone who has had a job has fantasized about quitting. Those fantasies typically don’t see you giving two weeks’ notice and earnestly thanking your boss for the opportunity, the way you would quit in real life. Some may fantasize about telling everyone in the office what they think of them on the way out. Some may want to scream expletives. Personally, I dreamed of just quietly standing up from my desk and walking out the door, never to return.

Ken Griffey Jr. also chose a good old-fashioned ghosting. One day, he knew he was done. So he got in his car and drove to Orlando. His agent called then-Mariners President Chuck Armstrong a few hours before the next game and let Armstrong know that Junior was done.

I remember the exact moment I learned the news. It was an idle Wednesday afternoon. I took a peek at Twitter and was overcome with emotion when I read those three simple words:

I had been to Mariners games Before Griffey (BG), but I don’t remember them. Up until June 2, 2010, baseball existed only with Ken Griffey Jr. in it. That smile, the backwards cap, his breathtaking, beautiful, easy, sweet, sweet home run swing. He was the reason so many kids in Seattle and across the country fell in love with baseball. It was impossible not to fall in love with the glee and joy with which he chased down fly balls in the outfield. He was truly a Kid out there; the ballpark was a park, and he played with child-like joy.

Despite that joy and happiness, he could also stand aloof from it all. I’d recognize that introvert energy anywhere. As the years and injuries wore him down and he couldn’t play with the exuberance of The Kid anymore, I understand why he left without telling anyone. He is the son of a major leaguer; baseball had defined him his entire life. Now, it was over. That’s a lot to process personally, and when over the top displays of emotion exhaust you, you have to give yourself the time to privately sort through it all.

Ken Griffey Jr. gave us so much by allowing us to watch him play baseball. It’s hard to imagine my childhood without his lighthearted, vivacious play. We were lucky to have him in Seattle. His retirement reminded us that for all that athletes give us, they aren’t obligated to give us everything.