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Originally published June 25, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 4, 2007 at 9:09 PM

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Steve Kelley

This wasn't goodbye — Griffey will be back

This wasn't one last, long farewell to Ken Griffey Jr. He'll be back. There was too much leftover goodwill after the final out. Too many tears, too...

Seattle Times staff columnist

This wasn't one last, long farewell to Ken Griffey Jr.

He'll be back.

There was too much leftover goodwill after the final out. Too many tears, too much love for this to be the last time he plays baseball in Seattle.

On a gray Sunday afternoon, Griffey left us with one more game for the time capsule — two home runs, three hits and one tumbling catch.

He left town late Sunday, with Seattle wanting more.

And make no mistake about it, he left town wanting some day to return.

"It's been a lot of fun," Griffey said of the weekend, after the Mariners' 3-2 win over his Cincinnati Reds. "Everything I thought it would be and more."

This was the day he showed Seattle how much game remains in his tank. He turned another average afternoon into an event.

In the first inning he hit a strange, two-out, opposite-field home run that barely got over Willie Bloomquist's glove and into the Reds' bullpen.

Griffey stopped between first and second, waiting for a call. Finally second-base umpire Mike Winters yelled, "Let's go."

"I didn't see a home-run sign and didn't see any of the fielders run off the field," Griffey said. "I was just looking around."

Griffey singled in the third, then yanked one of those majestic moon shots off Mariners starter Miguel Batista in the fifth.

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That homer should have had a patent on it. It was typical Griffey. A parabolic 428-foot, Home-Run-Derby blast that crashed against the UW Medicine sign, off the facing of the second deck in right field.

It was the 584th home run of his career, moving him past Mark McGwire into seventh place all-time.

Griffey hit one home run with the roof open. He hit another with the roof closed. And the sold-out house roared as if it were 1995 again. Roared as if he were wearing hometown whites.

"I'm just glad the people of Seattle welcomed me like that," Griffey said.

This game was Griffey at his best.

In the second inning, he made a tumbling catch of Adrian Beltre's blooper and doubled up Ben Broussard off first.

"It just hung up for me," Griffey said, "and I was able to roll the ball back to first."

For Griffey, this weekend was food for thought. He had been downplaying his return practically since the season began.

But Friday's first ovation chased away any lingering fears of rejection. He is loved in this city, and now Seattle knows that love is requited.

Griffey, who was listed as the designated hitter in the Reds' original lineup, even lobbied manager Jerry Narron to start him in right field, telling Narron, "It wouldn't be fair to the people of Seattle for me to DH."

Things have changed in Seattle. At 37, after three kids and 18 big-league seasons, Griffey has matured. And, after a seven-plus year absence, the city fully understands what he has meant to the franchise.

Griffey now knows he can return to Seattle. He can end his career with the Mariners.

"I always thought I'd be back," he said. "Athletes always want to retire with the teams that you started with. I'm no different than anybody else. But I've still got a few years left. I don't think it's going to be any time soon.

"It depends on a lot of things, health and everything else. A lot of that has to do with the front office. All I can do is keep playing. If something happens, it happens. But right now I have to try and win as many games as I can for the team I'm with now."

After this season, Griffey has two more years on his contract. But the second is a team option, which the Reds almost certainly won't exercise.

The idea of a Griffey homecoming is gathering momentum.

Even Ichiro said this weekend he gladly would move back to right if Griffey were to return to Seattle and wanted to play center field.

In the third inning, when Griffey was standing on second and the Reds were tending to Edwin Encarnacion, who had been hit by a pitch, Griffey turned toward center field and mimed Ichiro's batting swing. Ichiro mimed back Griffey's swing.

This was a weekend filled with class, from the way the Mariners organization, players and fans greeted Griffey, to the way he responded.

"That shows you how special this city is that he [Griffey] wants to come back and do that here," Bloomquist said. "And it could happen. Obviously the fans would love it, and I know there's a lot of guys [in the clubhouse] who wouldn't mind having him."

As his last hurrah, Griffey caught Yuniesky Betancourt's fly ball to end the eighth inning. He quickly waved to the crowd, igniting a final, long standing ovation.

Then he crossed the third-base line, took off his cap and waved one final time in front of the Cincinnati dugout.

"It was just my own way of saying thank you," he said. "[They cheered] every inning that I ran out there. I wish it could be like that all the time."

In Seattle, at this time in Griffey's career, it could be.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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