Mariners players remember Ken Griffey Jr.
Mariners players had no idea when they arrived at Safeco Field that Wednesday would be the day Ken Griffey Jr. would announce his retirement.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Those closest to him knew this day was coming, and maybe soon.
Still, the finality of the news that Ken Griffey Jr. had decided to retire immediately hit them as hard as one of his shots over the right-field wall at the Kingdome that were long his trademark.
"It's tough to close the book on a ballplayer like Ken Griffey Jr.," said Mike Sweeney, the player who might have been tightest with Griffey during his second run with the Mariners. "There's going to be a big void that will never be filled. You can't match a Ken Griffey Jr., what he has accomplished on the field, his heart. You can't replace Ken Griffey Jr."
And while they knew something might be up, players had no more idea than anyone else of the news when they arrived at the ballpark, told just a few minutes before word was released to the public.
"I wasn't surprised," said catcher Rob Johnson. "I knew that there was always the potential. I didn't know when or how, but I knew there was the potential he would hang them up."
As the news spread, players reminisced about Griffey.
Matt Tuiasosopo, who grew up in Woodinville and attended many games when Griffey played for the team from 1989 to 1999, recalled playing with friends near his house, imitating Griffey's swing.
"I just think about growing up as a kid, watching him all the time, it's been really special being able to be a part of this team and learning from him," he said. "It's something I will always remember and tell my kids about. I'm just very thankful."
Lou Piniella was Griffey's manager from 1993-99.
"Junior is one of the finest young men I've ever had the opportunity to manage," he said. "When we were in Seattle together, I believe he was the best player in baseball and it was truly an honor to be his manager. As great a player he was, he is an even better person. I salute his Hall of Fame career."
Former teammate Mike Blowers, now a Mariners announcer, said, "I think it's a bit of a surprise for myself, like everybody else, but when I look back on Kenny's career, a big smile comes over my face. And the biggest reason is because he was one of the best teammates I ever had.
"For me, although a lot of people are going to be sad on this day, I have a lot of fond memories of Kenny. I wish him and (wife) Melissa well and hopefully he gets back to Orlando (Fla.) in good shape and gets back to flying his airplane. I think overall this city is fortunate to have Kenny in it for the amount of years that they had him."
Mariners pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith, a native of Australia, noted how Griffey's popularity reached around the world.
"Coming from Australia, he was one of a handful of guys you could relate to," Rowland-Smith said.
Rowland-Smith's major-league debut in 2007 came against the Reds at Safeco Field. His first strikeout came when he fanned Griffey in the first inning.
He remembered later that Griffey said, "Hey man, now you've got something to tell your grandkids."
Griffey's own kids were on the minds of other Seattle players, who said they figured Griffey will return to his Florida home to spend a summer with his family for the first time.
As Wednesday's game began, the roof opened, sun shining in. But Sweeney noted that the weather had been gloomier earlier in the day.
"Milton Bradley said it best," he said, "that on a day like this, it should rain in Seattle."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
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