Ken Griffey Jr, A Modern Pioneer

As a child, some of the biggest sports figures in the world were people that I really looked up to and wanted to be when I was older. That started at an early age playing different sports with friends from the neighborhood and saying the names of our favorite athletes while making a play; which eventually led to me joining youth leagues. Whether it was at the park by my house, in Little League, or during my freshman year of high school, some of the best times of my life came from playing baseball. I couldn’t tell you for certain when I started playing baseball, but I know exactly why I loved playing it. It was because of this one kid that was always on the television and I’ll never forget how cool he was.

He wasn’t just any kid though. He was ‘The Kid’.

Ken Griffey Jr. is one of the only baseball players I’ve ever witnessed that was bigger than the sport. Officially becoming a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame today, he was an icon in every sense of the word. There is not one person that played or watched baseball in this generation that didn’t want to be him. Seriously. From winning an MVP award and being selected to the All-Star game 13 times, the numbers speak for themselves. Whether it’s his 630 career home runs, 7 Silver Sluggers, or his 10 Gold gloves,  I can go on about his accolades because there’s so many to choose from.

Even though the numbers are cool, what made him cooler was how he accomplished these feats to become a legend. Griffey was a transcendent figure for the game just by being himself, a natural on the diamond. Whether it was leaping in the air to rob a home run, crushing one of his own in the upper deck, or wiggling upright at the plate followed by the undisputed prettiest swing of all time, he made every movement look so effortless. His natural ability along with athleticism and uncanny instincts made him one of the most distinctive yet hardest players to emulate. A wizard at the plate and Van Gogh in the outfield, it seemed as if he made SportsCenter at least once a day. The shows he put on during the 8 Home Run Derbies he participated in became instant classics and something incomparable. Him hitting souvenirs in his backwards cap, something you see more often by current players in the league, became the sight to see the day before the Midsummer Classic. Did I mention Griffey is still the only person ever to win at least 3 Derbies?

The newest enshrinee definitely puts the “fame” in Hall of Fame like no other player can. Along with being the biggest star on the diamond, he was a celebrity off of it as he found his way on your TV in plenty of ways. The center fielder was quite the pitcher when it came to selling products with his signature Nike line, video games, and other products. Along with dominating commercials, Griffey made an appearance on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and in a few movies also. The Swingman logo on his Nike shoes and gear has become the sport’s equivalent to the Jumpman logo to a basketball player. Many of the Major League’s best players, such as Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, and Adam Jones (ironically all center fielders), all look at Griffey as one of their idols growing up.

The backwards hat, the diving catches, the homers, the swing, the swag, and most importantly, the smile. Junior will always be one of a kind with his talent and popularity. With that being said, his character was second to none as well. It’s really great to see people, regardless of their profession, enjoy doing what they love to do while inspiring others to follow their footsteps. Ken Griffey Jr. fit that mold to a T and inspired a whole generation.

A kid at heart. ‘The Kid’ to us all. Welcome to the Hall, Junior.

 

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