Junior’s 500th

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
— Langston Hughes, “Dream Deferred”

I had this dream when I was a kid growing up, watching my beloved Cincinnati Reds: Ken Griffey, Jr., would come home from Seattle to play for the hometown team. He’d raked at Moeller High, and I could see him patrolling center in Riverfront. It was a common dream—all of Southwest Ohio’s baseball fans had that same dream.

One day, it came true.

Or fester like a sore–and then run?

Except that it didn’t. 2000 was ugly for Junior and for us fans—death threats, poor performances. 1999 had been a high point—one we should have recognized as one of a mediocre team with a lot of luck, but did not. I remember driving to class, hearing about the trade: if the Reds could come to the brink of the playoffs without Junior, maybe they could win a league pennant with him. Maybe we could best the Yankees.

The 2000 Reds came back to Earth when Junior proved too fragile to hold them up. It was too much of a burden for one man—baseball being an team sport based around individual trials, one batter taking on one pitcher, with the defense only reactionary if the ball is in play—too much to reasonably expect that Just Junior would make it all right. The death threats, the poor performance that resulted, the pressure, and the fact that, well, luck was not with those Reds.

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Then came the injuries. The Juniories—one or two a year. You’d look up at the end of the season and see he’d played … just 60 games? Could it have been so few?

The outcry came. The home town turned: fans, prompted by local media, started examining the team’s record with and without Griffey. [A preposterous notion—one can statistically prove any one player’s value over that of your average AAA stiff you could replace him with, and few get above a hand full of wins. Barry Bonds? You might have to take a shoe off.]

Or crust and sugar over–like a syrupy sweet?

Each spring, you’d read of the season before’s sadness and woe, and read of Junior’s work in the offseason to make himself stronger, and you looked at his steely eye and determination and think, “Maybe this is the year he’ll be healthy.”

And then no.

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load

This was my final fear for Junior—a scowl on his face, determined to prove everything wrong. The Kid turned into The Monster that everyone sees Barry Bonds being. All work, no play. [Bonds likely plays, but why show us?]

Or does it just explode?

Finally, it exploded.

Congratulations, Ken, on getting #500, getting healthy, and getting back to having fun. That post-game press conference yesterday was delightful: you were funny and it was all spontaneous. You emoted, and we knew it was true. You … sparkled.

The Kid is back. He never left.

3 comments

  1. Don’t know if you will see this comment but be that as it may, I liked what you wrote about Junior… I live in NW Washington so I know enough about Junior to appreciate him…

    I’m also a big Giants fan having been born in the bay area. Yeah, Bonds is the man for me. I think he’s finally starting to grow on the public. They are getting used to not asking him to dance around like a freak just to say that he’s happy about something. I personally don’t know why the public has to see so much surface emotion to appreciate a good player… I’m ok with Bond’s simple heartfelt reaction to things as they come.

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