SEATTLE — Ken Griffey Jr. strode out from beyond the center-field wall, walked deliberately between the “2” and “4” emblazed on the Safeco Field grass, kissed his fingers and reached to touch the spot of the field he once patrolled.
There was one more honor for “The Kid” this summer, and Griffey soaked up every moment.
Griffey’s No. 24 was retired by the Seattle Mariners on Saturday night with an emotional outpouring from fans that had the new Hall of Famer fighting back tears. The Mariners retired the number throughout the organization, and the final time it was worn came during batting practice when every member of the roster and coaching staff took the field with No. 24 on their jersey.
The nearly hour-long program included former teammates, special Hall of Fame guests from other sports and an eloquent 5 minute video narrated by Grammy Award rapper Macklemore that brought the stadium to its feet and left very few dry eyes.
It also included a video message from Willie Mays, who chided Griffey for not returning Mays’ call after Griffey’s Hall of Fame induction was announced in January. So Griffey pulled out his cellphone and called Mays — but had to leave a message he said.
Griffey entered the stadium, appropriately, through center field, stopping along the way in the sun-drenched outfield to acknowledge the roaring ovation. It was an opportunity for those who didn’t make the trip to see Griffey inducted in Cooperstown to give their thanks for what Griffey meant to baseball in the Pacific Northwest.
“I can’t really explain what the last two weeks have been like. It’s been unforgettable,” Griffey said. “The fans, the people, I walk down the street and I’m getting high fives like I just scored again. That’s a tribute to you guys here, the way that you treat baseball players, basketball players, football players like people. You make us feel like part of the community and I want to thank you guys.”
Griffey managed to maintain his composure until it came time for the unveiling of his retired number. The Mariners quietly pulled his daughter, Taryn, from the on-field ceremony and repositioned her in left-center field to pull the curtain that was covering the No. 24, placed right next to Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.
Griffey couldn’t hold back the tears at the point, dabbing his eyes with his tie.
“It’s only fitting from here forward Ken’s No. 24 will be displayed next to Jackie Robinson’s No. 42,” Mariners President Kevin Mather said.
Mather also announced that the team will construct a statue of Griffey outside of Safeco Field to be unveiled in 2017.
Griffey’s speech was nearly 20 minutes shorter than his Hall of Fame induction speech, and he was able to keep the emotions in check as he cracked on former teammates and honored the city where he broke in as a 19-year-old in 1989.
“I’ve had so many great memories in this city. It’s been an unbelievable ride,” he said.
The Mariners pulled out all the stops, including the presence of Hall of Fame players from other Seattle professional franchises. Steve Largent and Cortez Kennedy represented the Seattle Seahawks, adorned in their gold Hall of Fame blazers, while Spencer Haywood and Gary Payton represented the Seattle SuperSonics. Payton, nicknamed “The Glove,” presented Griffey with a bronzed glove created by the same group that made Griffey’s Hall of Fame plaque.
And the Mariners brought in a pair of No. 24s in the Baseball Hall of Fame with a special connection to Griffey: Rickey Henderson, a teammate in Seattle, and Tony Perez, a teammate of Griffey’s father in Cincinnati. Henderson was also the punchline of the parting shot to Griffey’s speech.
“Rickey, you were the greatest,” Griffey said. “Today, I am the greatest.”