COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Mariners radio broadcaster Rick Rizzs was there when Ken Griffey Jr. broke into the Majors as a 19-year-old kid in 1989. He was there when Griffey grew into a superstar and the national face of baseball in the '90s. And he was there when Griffey played out
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Mariners radio broadcaster Rick Rizzs was there when Ken Griffey Jr. broke into the Majors as a 19-year-old kid in 1989. He was there when Griffey grew into a superstar and the national face of baseball in the '90s. And he was there when Griffey played out his final games at Safeco Field in 2010 and rode off into the sunset.
So, no, Rizzs wasn't about to miss the crowning moment in Griffey's career. Although the Mariners are playing this weekend in Toronto, the club flew Rizzs to Cooperstown on Saturday morning along with longtime trainer Rick Griffin, former teammate and current hitting coach Edgar Martinez and veteran radio producer and engineer Kevin Cremin.
That foursome will miss the Mariners' final two games of the Blue Jays series in order to be present when Griffey becomes the first Hall of Fame inductee bearing a Mariners cap on his plaque. Coverage begins on MLB Network and MLB.com at 8 a.m. PT Sunday, with the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies getting under way live at 10:30 a.m.
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"For Junior to join Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and all the other great players as the highest-percentage vote getter in the history of the game of baseball, it's going to truly be an honor to be there," Rizzs said. "Not just myself, but so many other people in this organization, we had a chance to watch him grow not only into a great player, but a great person."
Rizzs lights up when talking about his memories of Griffey, who finished his career as a 13-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glove Award winner and four-time American League home run champion.
"The first thing that comes to mind is the joy with which he played the game," Rizzs said. "Every day he took the field, Junior reminded us that this game was supposed to be fun. In the clubhouse, out on the field, cap turned backward, laughing, joking with his teammates and the guys on the other team, with the media. ... He really, truly, passionately loved the game of baseball and he showed it every day."
But there was far more to Griffey, of course. And for Rizzs and former partner Dave Niehaus, who is a part of the Hall of Fame himself in the broadcast wing in Cooperstown, Junior supplied a neverending supply of highlight plays to call.
"When he put on that uniform and walked out on the field, he was the best player on the planet," said Rizzs. "On a daily basis, you saw this incredible talent."
Rizzs lists Griffey's wall-smashing catch of a drive by Kevin Bass -- the play in which he broke his wrist in 1995 -- as one of the moments he believes captures Griffey's competitive spirit the best. And when he came back from that injury, announcing his return with a walk-off homer off John Wetteland, Rizzs calls that "the spark that lit the candle that took them the rest of the way," as the Mariners made the postseason for the first time in franchise history by overcoming a 13 1/2-game deficit in the final two months.
But of course, the signature moment for Griffey came on "The Double" by Martinez, when he scored the winning run from first base to beat the Yankees in the 11th inning of the deciding game of 1995 AL Division Series, leading to the iconic photo of Junior grinning ear-to-ear from the bottom of a pile atop home plate.
"Scoring from first base on a double to left field at the Kingdome, where it was only 310 or 315 feet to home plate? That was the fastest I've ever seen him run, and the exhilaration and joy and emotion that Junior brought with him was sensational," Rizzs said.
"I took my headphones off. Dave was doing the play-by-play with one of the greatest calls in the history of our franchise and I'm jumping up and down, trying to run with him."
Now on Sunday, Rizzs and the other longtime Mariners employees will simply be standing with Griffey. Applauding. Cheering him home one last time.
"To see him get this honor completes the circle for all of us," said Rizzs. "To watch him start his career and then to end it where he belongs in his rightful place, with a plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y. It's amazing."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter [
@GregJohnsMLB]() and listen to his podcast.