It was a hot August night in 2005 BC (Before Castellini). Griffey Jr. was healthy again, or as close to healthy as he ever would get wearing Red. I was taking my 9 year-old son, Zachary, to watch his beloved Redlegs on a perfect evening for baseball. The San Francisco Giants were in town and seats were plentiful as the Reds were plodding toward another forgettable season and the rest of the populace was turning its attention down the street to the local NFL team. I easily found prime seats just off the side of home plate toward the third base side in Section 119. Zachary was sitting closer to the field than he ever had, closer even than he normally sat at Keyspan Park, the tiny and intimate Single A home of the Brooklyn Cyclones.
Being a Cincinnati-ex pat, each year we make a midsummer pilgrimage to GABP. We drive the final miles and come out through the Lytle Tunnel to the sight of Joe Nuxhall’s famous and comforting words, “ROUNDING THIRD AND HEADING FOR HOME” and know that yeah, we are.
Home, that is.
A little bit of wonder was being played out before my son as he attended these games. At some point early on, he told me that every time he saw the Reds in person, Griffey homered. I laughed, but out of curiosity, I went back and traced the games we’d been to for the past two or three years via old ticket stubs from GABP and New York’s Shea Stadium and sure enough, he seemed to be right.
So, here we were, another night of waiting for Junior to go yard, my son chattering on, anticipating exactly when it would happen. Being the adult (a fact of some debate if you know me), I knew the streak had already gone on far too long and, like water seeking its own level, was due to find a predictable if unceremonious conclusion. Every game seemed a likely unhappy ending in the making and that night was no exception. Junior had failed his downtown duty in each of his previous at bats that evening and was due to make only one more appearance in the bottom of the 9th. The two, thirty-something fellas sitting directly in front of us had taken considerable delight in the back and forth between me and my son through the first 8 innings—particularly my son’s unshakable belief that Griff would come through once more on cue, simply because he was there.
There is something magical about a 9 year-old boy at a baseball game. The innocence. The wonder. You probably know what I’m talking about, but if you don’t, go grab a kid off the street if you must. Sit next to him for 3 hours at the ballpark. You won’t regret a moment.
Griffey stepped to the plate, the first batter of the 9th. He already had two hits that evening. It was just too much to ask, yeah? “Here it comes,” I thought. How will he handle this? How will “we” handle this? Then, the superstar of the Reds did the most amazing thing:
He squared to bunt.
Zachary erupted with a plaintive and disbelieving cry: “You’re bunting!??
The paid attendance that night was 16,954 and more than half of them were probably gone by now. Zachary’s accusation rang out. Griffey surely heard my son’s wail, our proximity was so immediate. I was slightly embarrassed. We were so damn close to home plate. I waited for No. 30 to turn around, to glare in the direction of the voice so foolish to question the great man. But, he went about his business, letting the remark pass.
Then, Ken Griffey Jr., bless his heart, did the second most amazing thing of that certifiably crazy night:
He drove the the next pitch deep into the night.
Yes, he did.
To say we were beside ourselves is almost beside the point. I picked up my young son and raised him over my head, shaking him like he was a piñata full of fifty-dollar bills. He laughed, I roared, and the two fellows in the row in front of us? Well, let’s just say they became believers.
The streak did finally come to an end, but not before several more games would be watched. Two seasons later on a summer June day, I was still telling Zachary this was the day the streak would end. Griffey would, of course, homer on his first at bat of the game while I was standing in line waiting for cheese coneys, my son shaking his head at me before I could even get to my seat.
And so, Monday I listened to Opening Day from my office high above Manhattan, my window overlooking the borough of Queens. And when Brandon Phillips squared around to sacrifice in the 8th inning, I leaned back in my chair and howled at the ceiling and Dusty Baker: