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Griffey shows glimpses of 'The Kid'

When watching Ken Griffey Jr. play baseball, you can't help but wonder what might have been.

What if injuries hadn't robbed him of at least 50 games in seven of his previous 18 major league seasons? Had he stayed healthy, maybe Griffey would be going swing for swing with Barry Bonds in pursuit of Henry Aaron's all-time home run record. Griffey has never been tied to performance-enhancing drugs in any fashion, so a run at Aaron's 755 would have been more acceptable to baseball purists than Bonds' tainted chase.

We'll never know. Injuries are a part of the game, and heaven knows Griffey has had more than his share of physical ailments. But one thing we do know is that he has been a special player, a sure-fire Hall of Famer. This season is serving as a reminder of that fact.

Griffey is batting .290 and already has 21 home runs with more than half the season remaining. Only Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees and Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers have more homers. If Griffey maintains his current pace he will reach 40 homers for the first time since 2000, his first season with the Cincinnati Reds.

Griffey has had other hot starts in recent years only to see it all unravel with another season-ending injury. But everybody should keep their fingers crossed that he stays hot and on the field.

Griffey has his groove back. That left-handed swing looks sweet again.

It's good to see because Griffey used to represent everything that is good about baseball. We remember his days in Seattle when he was known as "The Kid." He was a boundless bundle of energy whose infectious smile, backward cap and heroics with the bat and glove energized baseball in the Pacific Northwest during his first 11 big-league seasons.

Griffey returned to Seattle over the weekend for the first time since he was traded to Cincinnati after the 1999 season. There were some bad feelings when he all but forced the trade by saying he would never re-sign with the Mariners. Apparently, his absence made Mariners fans' hearts grow fonder as they greeted him with standing ovations throughout the three-game series. Griffey didn't disappoint, either, capping his visit with a pair of home runs Sunday.

The affection the Seattle fans showed Griffey shouldn't come as a surprise. Their city might not have a baseball team right now if Griffey hadn't played there. Even the Mariners acknowledged that in presenting him with a framed picture of Safeco Field with the phrase "The House That Griffey Built" etched above it.

Considering everything he did there, why wouldn't the Mariners and their fans show their appreciation?

On Sunday, they saw vintage Griffey. He had the 55th multihomer game of his career and second in the past week. He has 584 homers overall, which pushed him past Mark McGwire and into seventh on the all-time list. Three more and he'll pass Frank Robinson.

Barring injury, there is little doubt Griffey will join Sammy Sosa as entrants into the 600-home run club this year. Seven hundred isn't out of the question in several seasons.

Whether Griffey will catch Aaron or Bonds is uncertain, if not unlikely. If there is any justice, he should be allowed to play long enough to get a shot at the record. But who knows how long Griffey will keep playing? He's no longer The Kid (he turns 38 in November) and two decades of wear and tear have a way of taking a toll on the body.

But he's playing now and playing well. He's giving us glimpses of the old Junior, and we should enjoy it while it lasts.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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