The past few days have been a reminder — not to go all serious on you — of our own eventual mortality.
Prince Fielder will hold a news conference today to announce he has likely played his last game in the majors, as his second neck surgery in three years ends his career at age 32. This is indestructible Prince, the man who once missed just 13 games over eight seasons and just one over a five-year stretch. How can his career be over already? It doesn’t seem right.
Fielder will finish with 319 home runs, the same number as his father. Cecil Fielder was another larger-than-life figure, a player who went to Japan for a year and then returned to the Detroit Tigers and shockingly blasted 51 home runs in 1990, becoming the first player in 13 years to reach 50. Prince would have his own 50-homer season and also play for the Tigers, so maybe it feels apropos that father and son will finish their careers with the same home run total. It makes me think of this commercial:
retire Ken Griffey Jr.’s No. 24 over the weekend. Griffey, of course, was also the son of a major leaguer, growing up in the clubhouse of the Big Red Machine. He and his dad famously hit back-to-back home runs with the Mariners in 1990. Has there ever been a better father-and-son moment? Playing together in the majors and then doing that? “Truth is stranger than fiction,” Mark Twain wrote, “but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”
The jersey retirement ceremony was a celebration of Griffey, a chance to relive all the memories he gave Mariners fans, a chance for the fans to thank him and for him to thank the fans. Griffey didn’t initially leave Seattle on good terms, basically asking to be traded after the 1999 season. But Mariners fans have forgiven and forgotten, and when Griffey later returned to the Mariners to finish his career, it was a chance to rekindle the relationship. Griffey was a shell of his 1990s self by then, thicker around the middle, slower in the field, the bat speed no longer so fast. It didn’t really matter; it was a chance for us all to pretend we were young again and really could turn back the clock.
My dad died two months ago. He would have loved to have seen the ceremony, to see Alvin Davis — Mr. Mariner — return for the celebration and to see Jay Buhner and Dan Wilson, to see Edgar Martinez walk out of the dugout with his hat turned backwards.
He would have loved to have seen Ichiro get his 3,000th hit. He spent a lot of hours and years watching bad Mariners baseball, when the only things worth watching were Ichiro beating out infield singles and Felix Hernandez pitching every fifth day. Ichiro says he wants to play until he’s 50. It’s a nice dream to have. But when he got that triple and doffed his cap, even Ichiro had specks of gray hair. Even the great Ichiro is getting old.
On Friday, Alex Rodriguez may play the final game of his career. Maybe another team picks him up — who knows? Has it really been 20 years since that 1996 season, when his future was limitless? My dad would have liked to have watched A-Rod’s final game, not out of spite or joy that this is the end — I think he found him more sad than anything, not someone to despise — but because he always appreciated A-Rod’s talent.
I think of a former Mariners pitcher named Rob Ramsay, who pitched in the majors in 1999 and 2000. I don’t know if my dad would remember him or not. After the 2001 season, an MRI revealed he had an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme. Ramsay beat the cancer and even managed to return to pitch again briefly in the minors, but would suffer from seizures and had to retire. He died this week at age 42 after suffering another one.
It’s been quite the week. Baseball will go on without Prince and A-Rod, just like it continued without Griffey. The games always go on. Life goes on.