The Griffey Generation
By Tyler Kepner
For the generation of players born in the mid-1980s, the incandescent star of their childhood was Ken Griffey Jr. Now they are playing in the majors as Griffey –- who is still looking for a job -– is winding down his career.
The Red Sox’ Jon Lester (born in 1984) and the Yankees’ Joba Chamberlain (born in 1985) were two youngsters reared on Griffey, who debuted for the Mariners in 1989. Lester grew up in Tacoma, Wash., when Griffey was starring at the nearby Kingdome. Chamberlain was from Lincoln, Neb., but knew plenty about Griffey.
On Tuesday, in a speaking event at Sacred Heart University, Lester and Chamberlain told the moderator Andrew Marchand of 1050 ESPN Radio that meeting Griffey last season was a highlight of their young careers.
“I think every kid my age wanted to be Griffey growing up,” Lester said. “We played Cincinnati this year and I went up to him like a 12-year-old and asked him for an autograph and shook his hand. I think I said three words to him. I called him ‘Mr. Ken.’ He kind of laughed.”
So did the crowd at Sacred Heart. Lester pleaded: “I was a little nervous, come on! He signed an old Mariners jersey for me, which I thought was pretty cool.”
Chamberlain then said that one of the coolest moments of his life was pitching to Griffey last spring and watching him hook a long foul ball with his unmistakable swing.
“Growing up, he’s a guy you stand in the backyard and try to swing like, but it could never look so good,” said Chamberlain, who was not as nervous as Lester when he met his idol. “I’m not shy about anything. I just go up and talk to anybody like I’ve known them for 20 years. I just went over and said hello, just started talking. He signed a bat for me and you look at the bat and there’s so much that’s gone into that bat. He’s one of the best players ever to play.”
Griffey’s career tailed off after he left Seattle, mostly because of injuries. But because of the impact of his early years -– and his gaudy career numbers, without the slightest innuendo of steroid use -– he will always be one of baseball’s unforgettable stars.