- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

SEATTLE (AP) - First inning singles never get the kind of raucous crowd reaction usually reserved for game-winning homers.

Then again, it’s been a decade since Naughty By Nature’s “Hip Hop Horray” blared over the speakers as The Kid strode to the plate wearing the home whites at Safeco Field.

Welcome home Ken Griffey Jr.

“Everyone knows this is the house that Griffey built,” said 21-year-old Kennedy White before Tuesday night’s game. “To finally have him come back and play in his house is something that you can’t really describe.”

With his No. 24 jerseys pulled from thousands of closets, dusted off and worn by countless fans, Seattle made it clear that Griffey is still No. 1 in their hearts.

The face of the franchise and the first Seattle sports star to gain national notoriety, Griffey hadn’t donned a Mariners uniform in a decade.

Griffey went 1-for-3 as the designated hitter in Seattle’s 3-2 victory in 10 innings over the Los Angeles Angels, his first game in Seattle with the Mariners since Sept. 26, 1999.

“Everybody put a lot into it and it’s more about the 25 guys in here, not just me,” Griffey said afterward. “It just so happens for me it was my return, but we’ve got something special going on in here. It’s about everybody and not just me.

As if there was any doubt, the love-affair the region has with Griffey was displayed from the moment he first trotted onto the red carpet during pregame introductions. The ovations were roaring waves of appreciation for what Griffey did in the 1990s to put the Pacific Northwest on the baseball map.

Signs decorated every level of the stadium, mostly created by 20- and 30-somethings who grew up with Griffey as their idol during his reign as one of the premier players in baseball.

One woman in her 20s had “Marry Me Griffey” on the front of her shirt. Another group in the left-field bleachers held up letters reading “The Kid Is Back.”

In the team store down the third-base side of the stadium, a store employee was stationed with a hook in hand, regularly pulling down new Griffey jerseys off the rack.

During the pregame ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of Safeco Field, Hall of Famer announcer Dave Niehaus noted the magnitude of the day as he ran through the top moments of the stadium’s brief history.

“And now welcoming home your favorite son,” Niehaus said.

Of course, this isn’t the same Griffey that once clung to outfield walls like sticky tape to rob extra-base hits and cracked homers into the upper reaches of the Kingdome. Despite the graying hairs and injuries that have chipped away at Griffey’s career, the fans that grew up watching him during his finest seasons are just happy to see “Mariners” written across the front of his jersey again.

“His legacy is cemented, but I think what he does this year is still important,” said 22-year-old Aaron Wham, wearing a gray Griffey jersey. “We’re not expecting Griffey of the 90s, but I’m also not expecting some hobbled 40-year-old. I’m still expecting a Hall of Fame player.”

Two years ago, Griffey returned with the Reds for a three-game weekend lovefest where the magnetic personality that attracted fans here was fully on display. It was then that Griffey first acknowledged the possibly of finishing his great career in a Mariners uniform, a dream for many that became reality on Feb. 21 when he signed a one-year deal.

Despite not wanting any special attention paid to his return, Griffey did his part in acknowledging the moment. He tipped his cap as the crowd roared during his first at-bat and didn’t stop until after he’d lined Shane Loux’s pitch into right field for a single, dropping it in front of Gary Matthews Jr.

Griffey’s chance at being the hero ended when Angels’ pitcher Scot Shields threw wildly to first in the 10th inning allowing Franklin Gutierrez to score and extend Seattle’s win streak to five. If Shields throw was on target, it was likely the next two batters would have been walked to bring Griffey to the plate with the bases loaded.

For all the attention he already received, Griffey preferred to let someone else shine.

“Nothing was going to prepare me for today,” Griffey said. “you guys want to write things, talk about things and make it THE story. And the story is the 25 guys in this locker room. Now we go about each and every day just playing baseball.”

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