Twins shocked about Griffey's retirement
Span, Morneau grew up watching 'Junior' in his prime
SEATTLE -- Twins center fielder Denard Span was standing on the top step of the visiting dugout at Safeco Field on Wednesday afternoon looking for Ken Griffey Jr. during the first round of Mariners batting practice.A fan of Griffey's since he was a young kid growing up in Tampa, Fla., Span had been hoping to talk to Griffey and ask him to sign a jersey. After all, Griffey had been one of the main reasons that Span decided to play baseball and why he had become a center fielder. But as he stood in the dugout looking for Griffey, Span heard the news that had just been announced over on the other side of the field -- the legendary outfielder had decided to retire. "I'm still shocked," said Span. "I came out here to ask him if he would autograph a jersey for me because he is and was -- now I can say was -- my favorite player growing up. But he's arguably one of the reasons why I play this game. I remember being younger and getting the opportunity to watch him in person when I was in middle school. He'll never be forgotten in this game."
The Twins were the final team to play against Griffey, having witnessed his final at-bat in Monday night's contest when he pinch-hit in the ninth inning and grounded into a forceout before being replaced by a pinch-runner.For players like Span and Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who grew up near Vancouver, British Columbia, and used to come to Seattle to watch Griffey and the Mariners play during their heyday in the 90s, it seemed a surreal moment to be there when Griffey's legendary 22-year career came to an end. "It's tough for the game to lose a personality like his, someone who enjoys the game and you never heard his name be involved in any kind of steroid issue or anything like that," Morneau said. "He was a great baseball player, a great ambassador for the game. It's tough to see somebody that we watched that was so special not be able to play anymore." As a left-handed hitter himself, Morneau said he grew up trying to mimic Griffey's classic swing with his friends while playing their own version of Home Run Derby. "But it could never look as good as his did," Morneau said. Perhaps the best memory that Morneau shared of Griffey came from the first baseman's initial meeting with his childhood hero. It came during his first big league Spring Training, when the Twins were facing the Reds while Griffey was playing for Cincinnati. Morneau said he was playing first base in the seventh or eighth inning when Griffey reached base. Trying to make small talk with the future Hall of Famer, Morneau jokingly asked him why he was still in the game since it was early in spring and most veterans are usually out of the game by that point. But having come off an injury the previous year, Griffey told Morneau that he was just trying to get his at-bats and get back to being healthy again. "He was just joking around with me," Morneau said. "It was a very happy moment for me. Sometimes you can get there and the guys you look up to can let you down a bit. But he was one of those guys who treated me like I had been in the league for 10 years. Just had a conversation with me, and I thought that was pretty cool." The timing of Griffey's announcement in the middle of a season took some of the Twins by surprise, although they understood the situation. Griffey had been relegated to more of a bench role with the Mariners and was batting .184 in limited play. In a statement released by Griffey, who was not at Safeco Field for the announcement, he said that he didn't want to be an "unfair distraction" to his teammates. So for the Twins and many other teams, Wednesday marked the day to say goodbye to a player that no one will ever forget. "It's hard to believe," Morneau said. "He seems like he's still having fun. He always has a smile on his face when he was out there. He's always enjoyable to watch. I'm not sure what exactly his reasons were. I guess it's whenever you feel like it's time."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.