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Originally published Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Say it ain't so, Junior

If Ken Griffey Jr. decides to sign with the Atlanta Braves, as it appears he will, he'll leave Mariners fans feeling jilted. Again. Remember this feeling?

Seattle Times staff columnist

Say it ain't so, Junior. Tell us you didn't tease Seattle for a week, only to sign a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves worth between $2 million and $3 million.

You're not going to jilt this town again, are you?

This was supposed to be the season of your homecoming. It felt symmetrical. At 39, you were going to finish in Seattle the career you started in Seattle.

The city was going to celebrate the final games of Ken Griffey Jr., the franchise's first on-the-field Hall of Famer. Who knows, if you played well enough, they'd gladly celebrate another year in 2010.

Sure, this return wouldn't be 1995 all over again, but it still had the potential to be something memorable. And it wasn't going to be all about nostalgia. Coming here had a purpose.

Many of us think you still can play. You can hit 30 home runs and drive in 80 runs. And we feel you can be a leader in the clubhouse, the adult in a roomful of kids.

This was going to be a fairy tale and, my goodness, does this city need a fairy tale. You were going to create a buzz in a sports town that has been all zzzz's.

Your return to Seattle would mean 200,000 more fans at Safeco Field. People from Bellingham to Hood River, Ore., would be wearing your uniform number again.

Instead, you're going to Atlanta?

Really?

You're not going to let down this city's baseball fans again, are you? You aren't going to betray the people who care about your game the most. It isn't going to be two strikes and you're out, is it?

Why would you do it, Junior?

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The Mariners' front office, which had debated whether to sign you with the same intensity Congress debated the stimulus package, finally agreed to do it.

The bosses agreed that your pluses far outweighed the minuses. With a healthy knee, you can give a lineup the long ball it needs. You can launch balls into the inviting right-field seats the way you did on a celebratory Sunday with Cincinnati in 2007, the last time you played here.

We understand that signing you wouldn't come with a money-back guarantee. For years, you've been one misstep, one slip, one outfield wall away from the disabled list.

The hope is you can play 140 games. The fear is you won't make it out of April.

But you're worth that gamble because you are the perfect bridge between the Mariners' lush past and their promising future. You can be that reminder of how good it was here and how good it can be again.

Think about it, Junior. You were always the anti-A-Rod here. People who never trusted Alex Rodriguez always trusted you. The same fans who rained fake dollar bills on Rodriguez rained nothing but love on you.

Sure, you can be a pain. Come to think of it, you're being one now. We remember when you whined about the glare in the outfield at Safeco Field, and we can't forget that you wanted the roof closed even on sunny days.

But most fans in Seattle excused your petulance because, after all, if it wasn't for you, there wouldn't be a Safeco Field. You helped save baseball in Seattle.

If you choose Atlanta over Seattle, though, all the good will that you've accrued in this town will be gone. You'll just be another superstar who left us. Another star who bummed us out. And you no longer will be welcome to play here.

If you choose Atlanta, you'll be doing it for the right reasons. You'll be closer to home, and you can watch the blossoming of your kids' athletic careers.

But remember this: Seattle wants you.

You really think Atlanta cares? Do you believe Braves fans appreciate your legacy? You think the city that couldn't sell out playoff games when the Braves were winning every National League East title cares about your 600 home runs? Think they're going to embrace you the way Seattle would?

In Seattle, you'd be a hero. In Atlanta, you'd be a one-year mercenary.

And the thing is, the Mariners need you now. They won't need you next year, or ever again. They will move on, move further down Rebuilding Road.

There will be no do-overs. No third chances.

So don't do it, Junior. Don't sign with the Braves.

Just tell us, it ain't so.

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

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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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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