Right where he belongs

. Saturday, February 21, 2009
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Ken Griffey Jr. no longer sprints around the bases with the grace of a gazelle. His tired knees won't allow him to patrol the outfield with the ease that he once did, seemingly tracking down any ball hit within a mile radius of his glove. The swing that was once dubbed the sweetest in all of baseball just doesn't seem to possess the speed to catch up to fastballs like it used to and grey hairs have begun sprouting within his dark goatee.

These days, "The Kid" is anything but a kid.

Yet Saturday when Seattle's prodigal son once again donned a Mariners hat and buttoned up his teal No. 24 jersey, that was all pushed to the side. Only one thing mattered: Griffey was back.

Some things are just supposed to go together. Fish and water, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Michael Jordan and the Bulls, etc. To baseball fans, especially those in Seattle, when you think Seattle Mariners, you think Ken Griffey Jr.

In an era where the steroids hang over the game like a black cloud, Griffey seemingly did things the "right way". There's no proof of that, but there's certainly no proof he didn't. No positive steroid tests. No fellow players claiming to have seen him be injected. Over the course of his 20-year career, the only thing on Griffey that seems to have expanded is his waistline.

He represented what was good with the game. With his hat backward, a smile on his face and the carefree nature of a kid (wait, am I describing Brett Favre here?), he made the game look easy. He hit bombs, climbed walls and made diving catches that left you scratching your head. He was named to the MLB All-Century team at the age of 30 and seemed like a shoe-in to break Hank Aaron's home run record.

After a few (ok, MANY) bumps in the road after leaving Seattle, he now returns home. He returns to the place that Mariner president Chuck Armstrong dubbed "The House that Griffey Built". For good reason, because it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Seattle Mariners might be the "Oklahoma City Mariners" right now if not for Griffey.

Who can forget the 1995 season, when with the team on the verge of moving to a new city, Griffey and the Mariners came back from two games down against the Yankees in the ALDS, winning the dramatic fifth game in the 11th inning when Griffey went from first to home on a double by Edgar Martinez to topple the Yankees.

Of course, that was 13 years ago and one might wonder what trotting out what's left of Griffey does for the present day Mariners, a team seemingly on the fast track to nowhere, in dire need of a rebuilding plan.

It goes without saying how much sense the move makes from a business perspective, but it's not a bad baseball move either. Griffey is 39, but hit 30 homers and drove in 93 runs just two years ago. Bothered by knee injuries in 2008, he hit only 18 home runs between stints with the Reds and White Sox. At Designed Hitter, the Mariners could have done much worse. The in-house options were Russell Branyan (who hasn't hit 18 HR's since 2001), Wladimir Balentin (8 career HR's in two years) and Jeff Clement (7 career HR's in two years).

Griffey won't ever hit 56 homers in a season again, but he can certainly provide the Mariners with better production than they probably would have otherwise gotten in his spot. When he does, he'll do it in the stadium he helped build in front of people who grew up with him, in the only jersey that really looks right on him.

Just like it should be.