From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

A Magical Baseball Player

The purpose of human life is to serve, to show compassion, and the will to help others.

Albert Schweitzer

Ken Griffey Jr. is a magical baseball player. When you turn on the sports news at 11 o’clock, you’re likely to see him on the highlight shows, knocking another one out of the park or leaping over the fence to turn someone else’s home run into nothing more than a long out.

But the greatest feat I ever saw Ken Griffey Jr. perform on a baseball field happened long before the game started. I was in Baltimore hanging around on the field at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, wasting time until I went back upstairs to the press box where I would cover the game that night.

Griffey bounded happily from the Seattle Mariners dugout on the third-base side of the field, making his way toward home plate for batting practice. An Orioles team official leaned to whisper something to him as he headed toward the batting cage, and Griffey looked over toward the Oriole dugout.

There, seated near the end of the dugout, was a pale, sickly looking boy of about ten or twelve in a wheelchair. He wore thick eyeglasses and looked far too thin to be healthy. Griffey walked over to the boy—with his cap on backwards in that little-kid way of his, toting his bat— and stopped to chat with the excited youngster for a few minutes.

I couldn’t tell whether the boy had trouble looking straight at Griffey because he was shy or because of whatever illness he had. But Griffey just leaned over a little lower so the two could talk face-to-face.

Griffey stayed and chatted with the youngster for about ten minutes as I watched—transfixed—from about thirty feet away. The whole time while he was engrossed in conversation with the boy, teammates were yelling for him to come over and take his batting practice swings. A shoe company representative kept bugging him to come over to shake hands with a big client who had purchased a lot of shoes from the company.

But Griffey would have none of it. He took his time with the young man, refusing to be rushed by anyone. After about ten minutes, he said his good-byes to the boy and his family, and trotted back to the other side of the field, disappearing into the Seattle dugout.

What a nice moment, I thought to myself. And then I promptly forgot about it, turning my attention to other things.

But Griffey wasn’t finished. He reappeared out of the Mariners dugout with a brand new Orioles cap and a T-shirt for the boy. I assume he had sent one of the clubhouse attendants out to the concession stands with some money to buy them for the youngster. Again, he trotted happily over to the young man, said a few words and dropped the new hat and the shirt into the surprised young man’s lap. I never forgot the entire tableau.

Ultimately, a few years later, Griffey left Seattle and the Mariners, choosing to sign as a free agent with Cincinnati, where he’d grown up when his father played for the Reds. Much was written and said about Griffey’s departure, and the big-money contract he had signed with Cincinnati. Some dismissed him as just another greedy ballplayer.

But none of that meant very much to me. I’d seen on that warm summer evening that Griffey had room in his busy day—and in his heart—for someone nowhere near as lucky as he was. And after seeing what he did that afternoon in Baltimore, I couldn’t put much stock in anyone speaking badly about him. I knew better.

John McNamara

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