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Originally published February 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 19, 2009 at 8:48 PM

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Steve Kelley

Angst and elation are pure Griffey

This is what you get with Ken Griffey Jr. You get the angst and the elation. You get the home runs and heartbreaks. You get all of the talent and all of the torment. You get the truth. And now Seattle will see him back with the Mariners.

Seattle Times staff columnist

This is what you get with Ken Griffey Jr.

You get the angst and the elation. You get the home runs and heartbreaks. You get all of the talent and all of the torment. You get the truth.

There is no hidden agenda with Griffey. There are no carefully calculated public-relations moves, no false proclamations designed to up the ante during contract negotiations.

Junior is genuine.

And if he changes his mind once, twice, maybe even three times in his first adventure in free agency, so be it. He isn't going to apologize for it. And he shouldn't.

For the past week Griffey has been a tortured soul. He has wrestled with the decision either to return to the Mariners, or to stay closer to home and play with the Atlanta Braves.

He has been caught in an emotional rundown, going back and forth in his mind between the Mariners and Braves.

In the middle of last week it was almost guaranteed he was coming to Seattle. But over the weekend, as he played golf at Pebble Beach in the National Pro-Am, the Braves made a serious run at him and, at one point, he told several people he thought he was going to Atlanta.

Back and forth, caught between two choices that seemed equally perfect. The M's. The Braves. The M's. The Braves. Stuck in this pickle.

In the end, sometime Wednesday, after the Braves thought they had a deal and the Mariners seemed certain they had lost him, Griffey changed directions one last time, went with his heart, and chose his roots.

Junior is coming home. He's going to be Mariner again.

He is the symbol of everything that has been good about Seattle baseball and this is where he belongs.

Griffey is returning to give the franchise a lift. He is coming back to play some left field, to do some designated hitting, to offer some advice to this wet-behind-the-ears team.

He isn't going to hit 50 home runs, but he could hit 30. He isn't going to outrun would-be doubles in the gap, but he still will make the occasional run-saving sliding catch.

He isn't going to put up the numbers that make the Sabermetrics people who crunch baseball statistics swoon, but he will add immeasurable intangibles.

He'll class up the clubhouse and he just might wake up some of the underachieving youngsters who were part of last season's 101-loss season. And he will spice up the summer.

I'm sure there is a segment of the Seattle sports public that is angry with him for this weeklong flirtation. People think he played Seattle and Atlanta against each other like a high-price auctioneer.

But that isn't Griffey's way.

I believe he wanted to play in Atlanta and be closer to his family. But he wanted to play in Seattle and be closer to the fans he cared about the most. He wanted to be in two places at one time and he was tortured by that.

Griffey chose Seattle because he believes he owes the city this season. He owes the fans for their loyalty. He owes the franchise for the respect it gave him, even when he left in 2000 for Cincinnati.

He is returning to repay that debt. He is coming back to Seattle to return the love he felt from the fans in 2007.

Back then, before his first appearance at Safeco Field since he left to play for the Reds, Griffey was nervous. He wasn't sure how he would be received by the people he left seven years earlier.

I have had enough conversations with him over the years to know he always has been concerned with how he is perceived in this city. His legacy here is important to him. Unlike most athletes, he doesn't take his role in the community lightly.

And he was overwhelmed by the reception he got in 2007. That weekend was Seattle at its best, rooting for Junior, while cheering for the Mariners.

Seattle fans let Griffey know — from the long standing ovation that greeted his first at bat on Friday, to the final roar when he left the field late Sunday afternoon — that whatever hurt they might have felt in 2000 was gone. He was forgiven.

Only the feeling inside the Seattle Coliseum when Lenny Wilkens returned after the Sonics had traded him to Cleveland, comes close to the affection Seattle showed Griffey.

And ultimately, after torturing himself for almost a week, after flip-flopping between Atlanta and Seattle, the memory of the warmth he felt from Seattle that weekend, is the reason Griffey is returning.

Junior is back, and that news is worth celebrating.

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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