The first thing I can remember was just how bright the sun was that day. If you were telling a story, it’s how you would want it to start. As our volunteer group sat outside of the St. Regis Hotel in Mexico City, commenting on how surreal my situation was would be cliché. In actuality, I was moments away from meeting baseball legend Ken Griffey Jr.
The Sports Committee for the United States Embassy in Mexico City sponsors a number of events in conjunction with Mexican partners, in order to develop better relationships between the two countries via sports. During my time on the committee, other events included hosting a reception for representatives of Mexican businesses with Hall of Fame Quarterback Joe Montana, and organizing outdoor viewing parties for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Sports is often viewed as a tool that can be used to bring people together, and I think a great display of that power is when it is used over cultural lines. The perceived differences between people are erased once you step on the field of play; the rules and objectives are the same, and the bond between participants often breaks down language barriers.
Arriving to the Olmeca Little League Baseball Complex, all you could see was field after field of green grass, dirt, chalk lines, and bleachers. Among all of this, here I was, talking to “The Kid”. A question about what sports I play leads us to a golf conversation where, of course, I take it upon myself to ask slightly condescendingly:
(Let me take this time to explain I do not even own a handicap, and three years of high school golf is my only competitive experience.)
“I have a 3 handicap. I play with Bubba Watson and Tiger.”
Yes, that would be two-time Masters Champion Bubba Watson, and another golfer that can be identified by only his first name.
After the removal of the shoe from my mouth, what struck me most about Griffey was just how down to earth he was. I’m sitting here talking to the greatest baseball player of my generation, and he has stories about how nice of a guy Tiger Woods is, and how Tiger would come to his house and eat all of his food. Amongst commentary on LeBron and questions from little leaguers about his feelings on Alex Rodriguez, Griffey was just a guy on a baseball field having fun. Demonstrating to the kids different drills to complete while in the outfield, all while bragging about how his children are becoming sports stars in their own rights.
Of course the day wasn’t complete without Griffey taking some batting practice. To watch him swing a baseball bat was indescribable. One of more difficult things to do in sports, hitting a baseball, is like riding a bike for Griffey. After the workshop with the little leaguers was complete, there was a press conference held where Griffey fielded questions, among them, his feelings about his upcoming eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame. On January 6, 2016, Griffey was on 437 of the 440 Hall of Fame ballots, which is the highest percentage of votes that any Hall of Fame inductee has ever received (99.3%).
I imagine that Griffey wasn’t phased by any of this, because, well, it doesn’t seem like who he is. Griffey is however, a funny, proud father, who is almost a scratch golfer. After meeting him, one of the greatest baseball players of all-time just seems like a footnote.
You probably wouldn’t believe that it actually started to rain as our group left the complex; it did. Is it as unbelievable as spending a day joking around with one of the greatest baseball players of all-time? I don’t think it’s even close.
But he is one of the greatest baseball players of all-time, and this weekend, he will assume his rightful spot in Cooperstown.