In June 1997, right after Kindergarten, my family and I moved from upstate New York to the Boston suburbs. Almost instantly, Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez replaced Hans Solo and Chewbacca as my heroes. I had never played baseball but was now a crazed, six- year-old Boston transplant hooked by its baseball culture.
Often, I fell asleep listening to Red Sox games on the radio. Every week or so, I stood in front of my mirror and celebrated how I imagined the inevitable Red Sox World Series celebration would unfold: me, running onto the field, joining the unruly mosh pit of players and coaches even though it was well past my bedtime (on a school night!). (The real celebration happened a few years later. Then again three years after that. Then again six years after that. How do you like THEM apples?)
I was a diehard. I was a nut. I read the Boston Globe sports page every morning before school — devouring columns and recaps; memorizing box scores and statistics; spilling my soggy Honey Nut Cheerios on the pages. Three years in a row, I dressed up as Nomar for Halloween. The third year, I wore a zombie mask on top to shake things up.
But, despite all this Beantown Baseball Influenza, despite my first years as a fan (perfectly, improbably) coinciding with the best three years ever by a pitcher, despite newfound playoff life in Boston, the player who most mesmerized me was a non-Red Sock. It was Ken Griffey Jr. (Pedro was my favorite and probably still is. But Griffey was practically mythical.)
On Sunday, Ken Griffey Jr. was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. This makes me feel a lot of things, but it mostly makes me feel old and nostalgic. It makes me feel like a restless, puppy dog eight-year-old again, eager to play catch for hours (In any weather. At any time of day. With friends. By myself).
From age seven to 10, every game of catch turned into Ken Griffey-inspired theatrics. My good pal, Stefan, would announce our imaginary games. There’s a deep drive to center. Griffey goes back. Back. Back! He dives — MAKES the grab! We each threw pop-ups to Griffey (We were both Griffey), throws that were woefully out of reach and mostly an excuse to dive on the ground. We took equal pride in crashing into trees and accumulating grass stains; actually catching the ball was a nice bonus.
Griffey was the rare superstar with otherworldly talent who played with the abandon of an eight-year-old in his backyard. He was Steph Curry before Steph Curry: transcendent, universally adored (until maybe now for Steph), and just the right amount of cocky. He was subjectively the fastest player in baseball and objectively the most fun. He dove and hoped for the best. He had the prettiest swing, the gaudiest statistics, and the dirtiest pants; those don’t usually go hand-in-hand.
Griffey’s Hall of Fame enshrinement took me back. It reminded not just that he inspired me but mostly how he inspired me: in backwards hats, big smiles, and a childlike joy. He was recess on the big diamond. He was so damn cool. He was the perfect ambassador for a young, new fan.
The point is not to record what you already know about what happened to you in the last 24 hours. Instead, it’s an invitation to the back of your mind to come forward and reveal to you the perishable images about the day you didn’t notice you noticed at all. — Lynda Barry