I was able to meet and talk to a Major League Baseball Hall of Fame player recently. The moment had a lot of buildup with a small payoff.
A week later – it happened again.
The chances of this sure seem pretty low, especially in a state (Oregon) that doesn’t even have a MLB franchise. While I was beyond excited to meet both players, it also gave me some other points of reflection about the experiences. Here are the stories.
Randy Johnson is second on the MLB career strike out list, most by a left-handed pitcher, and won the World Series with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 with some amazing pitching performances in tandem with Curt Schilling. He has even killed a poor pigeon during a Spring Training game. His daughter plays volleyball at the University of Oregon.
I went to the final home game of the season a couple of weeks ago, and my wife spotted The Big Unit who stands out for obvious reasons. While I didn’t particularly want to bother the man who sported a nice mullet and perpetual scowl in the 1990’s, I also didn’t want to miss out on a chance to meet a HOF pitcher…again.
A couple of years ago I was at the College Baseball World Series in Omaha with some friends and my favorite pitcher of all time, John Smoltz, was on hand for the festivities. He had a book signing going on that was supposed to last for an hour. So my friends started walking towards the line when we got distracted by and then called into a Buffalo Wild Wings eating contest. At the end of it, my friends and I had not only lost the eating contest in the finals to some random guy named John, there was still enough buffalo wings sauce consumed to cause trouble later AND by the time we cleaned up and went to see Smoltz he had left early. Opportunity squandered.
I waited for the right moment with Randy Johnson in the house now. As the Ducks finished the third set up 2-1, I decided to walk over. I waited at the top of the section he was at and no one else was talking to him. He was sitting next to the aisle, likely to stretch his six foot ten frame, and then a time out was called in the game. Time to strike. I confidently walked down the steps, with my wife and friends looking on in horror (but capturing the moment in some great stalker photos) and stopped next to the man who was inducted in baseball immortality in Cooperstown just in 2015.
“Hi, I’m Daryll” I said, touching his shoulder so he couldn’t completely ignore me. Since clearly I already knew his name was Randy. Or did he go by RJ?
“Yea?” he asked, causing me to question for a minute that it was actually him. Who else though would have that tall frame, burly mustache, and Billy Ray Cyrus locks.
“I just wanted to say I’m a big fan. I was thinking about you, what you did in the 2001 World Series this week as I watched the Cubs.” I sputtered. It came out quickly, but not rushed. I was going to bring up the 300 wins or the perfect game he threw against the Braves in 2003, but landed on comparisons to the recent World Series.
“Thanks. You probably have a better memory than I do.” Was that a smile? No, just some popcorn stuck in his mustache.Feeling emboldened nonetheless and with my camera app already open, I went for the jugular.
“Can I take a quick picture with you?” It was immediately clear after this question I had overstayed my welcome.
“No, I’m really just here to watch my daughter play, you can come back after and get anything you want” Rather than press the issue I thanked him for his time and walked back up the stairs feeling victorious.
One week later, I was in Portland with my wife and some good friends. We were navigating our way from the famous Powell’s bookstore to a sushi restaurant and walked inside to a waiting room with a few other people and someone out front leaning against a post. My friend Kyle noticed him first, asking me “Was that Ken Griffey Jr outside?”. I didn’t believe him at first, but emboldened by the week before but no conversation starters in my quiver, I walked back outside. Definitely him.
“Hi…are you Ken Griffey Jr?” I asked. That questions could really have only gone two ways. Either it was him or someone would be offended that because he was a middle-aged black man who had put on some weight in the Pacific Northwest he was Ken Griffey Jr. Luckily the answer went my way.
For those who don’t know, Ken Griffey Jr is widely regarded as the best (non steroids aided) player of our generation. He hit over 600 home runs, was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame nearly unaminously, and played center field better than most in history.
“Uh-huh” he said, seemingly looking a little nervous and looking around his surroundings.
“I’m Daryll. Nice to meet you” I offered, extending my hand.
He shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “You too, man.”.
That was it. I didn’t congratulate him on a great speech at the Hall of Fame this summer. I didn’t ask him about his son playing football for Arizona against Oregon State later that day, didn’t mention that I owned 3 re-iterations of his video game and would announce the games played against my brother. I didn’t ask him about how the restaurant was, or ask him if he though Mike Trout was the best centerfielder since, well, himself. I didn’t ask for a picture, or why he hadn’t responded yet to autograph requests from a certain young Angels fan…but I met Ken Griffey Jr. The player of my generation. The man who popularized backward hats and bubble gum, and who once escaped an outfield wall falling down on him. Pretty cool.
So pretty eventful two weeks in the famous former Seattle Mariners and Baseball Hall of Fame department.
Upon reflection it makes you realize what both a blessing and curse it must be to achieve so much in your profession and be done around the age of 40. Griffey will be forever remembered in my eyes for his gravity defying catches into the wall and playful smile with his hat backward. Now, he looks more like most mid 40 year old dads. He was wearing Nikes, a blue puffy vest, and had definitely put on some weight.
The greatness that Johnson and Griffey Jr. achieved in baseball is achieved by few in the sport or elsewhere in life. Does that make them different than the rest of us? Of course not. You never know who I will run into next.