Griffey vs. A-Rod, Cheers vs. Boos

Ken Griffey Jr. received a standing ovation every time he strode to the plate in yesterday's Mariner home opener, which marked the return of the M's prodigal son to the team he began his storied career with as a teen 20 years earlier. His reception during pregame introductions was on par with how Barack Obama was greeted at the Democratic reception. And yet, fan reaction to Griffey's homecoming paled in comparison to the boo shower Alex Rodriguez received when he returned to Safeco for the first time after jumping to Texas as a free agent.

My, how memories are short and selective. A-Rod was guilty of nothing more than taking a more lucrative offer from a crappier team. If he made any mistake beyond that, it was his disingenuous claim that his choice "wasn't about the money" -- a claim made by hundreds of greedy pro athletes over the past quarter century. Sure, A-Rod getting booed his first game back was understandable, but the double standard M's fans have for Griffey is the curious thing here.

Griffey, lest you forget, turned down an 8-year, $138 million extension to keep playing in Seattle, instead publicly demanding a trade to Cincinatti in 2000 for Mike Cameron and Brett Tomko. Cameron was good, but he wasn't Griffey. And once Griffey arrived in Cincy, he wasn't Griffey either, struggling with injuries on an annual basis in between increasingly rarer glimpses of the sort of greatness he put on display in Seattle, greatness that had some wondering whether he'd end up being the best to ever play the game.

So why the double standard? Simple: You never forget your first time, and Griffey popped an entire fan base's cherry on so many levels -- first M's superstar, first M's playoff run -- that any ill will quickly faded to black. It also didn't hurt that, shortly after Griffey's departure, the M's acquired Ichiro Suzuki and tied the major league record for wins in a season, while the Kid's Reds reliably wallowed near the NL cellar. Karmic revenge was meted out swiftly; the Griffey that signed with the Mariners this off-season was a weathered hero, ready to crawl back under the covers with his long-estranged surrogate family out west.

I was instantly supportive of the Griffey signing, and was quite anxious to witness the outpouring of warmth that marked his return. I figured the game itself would be anticlimactic -- but it wasn't. Griffey swatted a line single to right in his first at-bat, which advanced Ronny Cedeno to third and contributed mightily to the team's first run in what would end up being a thrilling one-run win in extra innings. Carlos Silva was downright masterful -- no, this isn't a misprint -- over seven innings, yielding but four hits and two runs; and the bullpen, however shakily, held firm for three more frames before a Franklin Guitierrez gapper and a Betancourt bunt cinched the verdict.

With Suzuki likely to return to the top of the M's order tonight, it's an appropriate time to recognize his leadoff replacement and the club's MVP to date: Endy Chavez. Hitting safely in all eight games with an average around .400, Chavez is the chief reason for the M's surprise 6-2 start. While his success makes batting Suzuki third a tempting proposition, a likelier scenario is that Chavez will move down a spot in the order, causing opposing hurlers to think twice about pitching around the slender Japanese great who precedes him.

Two closing, random notes: Evidently, the M's signed Griffey too late to include him in the team media guide. You'd think that if ever there were a reason to incur the cost of a second print run, that'd be it, but these are tough economic times, even for enterprises who don't blink at paying even their weakest employees hundreds of thousands (and often millions) of dollars per year. And Russell Branyan takes the Corey Hart Award for wearing his sunglasses while leading off the 9th inning at approximately 6:10 p.m., by which point the sun was but a distant memory to the third-base overhang.

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