I grew up a huge fan of the Philadelphia Phillies and baseball in general, but as I got to be a teenager and started playing the game myself one player dominated and I can't think of anyone of my peers who wasn't a fan. This evening Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 600th HR, and while injuries have shortened many of his seasons since 2000, it's still a remarkable milestone. Espn's Tim Kirkjian put together a nice write-up here. A couple excerpts stood out to me:
On the early years:
" 'When he came to camp in 1989, he had no chance to make the team,' [former teammate Scott] Bradley said. 'But he got a lot of at-bats early that spring because a lot of veterans don't like to play a lot early. After 20 games, he wasn't just the best player on our team, he was the best player in the league that spring. The Mariners basically said, 'We don't want this to happen, we don't want to rush him, we don't want him to make the team.' So they started running him out there against every elite pitcher, against all the nastiest left-handers they could find in hopes that he would stop hitting, and they could send him out. It never happened.'
He made the club as a 19-year-old, the youngest player on an Opening Day roster that season. In his first at-bat at the Seattle Kingdome, he hit a home run on the first pitch he saw from the White Sox's Eric King. Griffey went on to hit 16 home runs that season -- in baseball history, only Tony Conigliaro and Mel Ott hit more homers as teenagers."
On the 90's and his development as a hitter
"Griffey had the amazing ability for a young hitter to see, react and hit the breaking ball if it stayed in the strike zone for too long. As he grew as a hitter by developing his opposite field power and still maintaining his pull power, the huge home run seasons came. He was then the youngest player to reach 300, 350, 400 and 450 home runs. He was named to the All-Century team when he was 29 and he was named the Player of the Decade for the 1990s."
Kurkjian closes by saying that while we could look back now and talk about all that might have been without his injuries, it's much more fun to admire what an amazing athlete and all around player Griffey has been over the years. It's also fair to look forward and realize the kid still has quite a few homeruns ahead of him.