Bill Wixey: How Ken Griffey, Jr. gave me a gift I will forever be grateful for

Here's my Ken Griffey, Junior story. It's probably the best story from my days as a sports reporter.

When my sportscasting idol Tony Ventrella hired me as a sports anchor/ reporter at KIRO in 1998, it was truly a dream come true. To be able to come home and cover the teams, and in some cases, the players that I grew up rooting for was an unbelievable thrill.

I was a HUGE Ken Griffey, Junior fan. Who wasn't? He was--and still is--the greatest athlete I have ever seen in my life.

At that time, KIRO had the Mariners baseball contract, and we produced a weekly magazine show, featuring interviews with the players. My job was to get those interviews, so I spent a lot of time during every homestand at the Kingdome, and later, at Safeco Field. I had no problem getting terrific one-on-one interviews with all of the stars: Edgar, Randy, Alex, Buhner, Lou, Wilson...but Junior was an issue.

He and I had lots of off-the-cuff conversations in the clubhouse and around the batting cage about all kinds of things: kids, golf, workout routines, the lousy suits that I wore, but any time I needed to approach him about actually doing my job, and sitting down for an interview with me, he would reply with a brusque "Nope", and slip by me. Every time.

Now, Junior did lots of exclusive interviews with other beat reporters like Bob Finnigan of the Times (who was tight with Junior from the beginning), and Angie Mentink (who was much prettier than me), but I could never get a one-on-one with him. Not once. For two years.

It bothered me. I thought I was doing something wrong. I had dealt with a lot of huge stars in the past, and never had any issues. Junior was a joker, and he was toying with me. I think he enjoyed it. In fact, I know he did.

In February of 2000, rumors were swirling that Junior was trying to force a trade to the Cincinnati Reds. Junior had not said anything about it publicly, but Mariner fans were understandably very concerned. Just as the M's moved into their new palace, Safeco Field, the team's biggest star, the biggest star Seattle had ever known, the biggest star in the sports universe at the time, wanted out of Seattle.

One morning, I got a phone call from my news director. It was 7 o'clock in the morning (which was the crack of dawn for a guy working the late newscast). My boss was telling me that I needed to get on a flight to San Francisco in three hours. Junior was playing in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am Golf Tournament, and had mentioned to Dan Raley of the P-I that "Seattle wouldn't have me back." One sentence. An off-handed comment.

My boss wanted me to go down there and get the real story from Junior himself.

I asked him, "Are you sure that it's me that you want to send for this? Junior doesn't really open up to me."

"Get packed. The flight leaves at ten."

I arrived at Pebble Beach in the afternoon with my photographer, Aaron Stadler. That day's practice round had been rained out, and the tournament was set to begin the next morning. I found out what time Junior teed off, and even managed to track down where he was staying. I left a phone message with a member of his entourage who answered, but I knew the message would never be delivered.

The next morning, Aaron and I spotted Junior on the practice green. When he recognized us and saw the camera, he shook his head back and forth, saying, "Oh, HELL no! Nuh uh!"

One thing about Junior: he watched, listened and read EVERYTHING that was said about him, and I knew that if I asked him to clarify the comments in the paper, he might open up.

"Dan Raley quoted you as saying that 'Seattle wouldn't have you back'. Did you mean that?"

Junior looked at me for a moment and then he let loose. For 45 minutes, he explained why playing in Cincinnati was a "childhood thing", how he had grown up in the Reds' clubhouse and always wanted to play there, the deep affection he felt about Seattle and the fans, and how he felt disrespected in some way by Mariners GM Pat Gillick (a fellow Hall of Famer), on and on and on.

Standing there on the practice green, I handed the microphone back to Aaron, and Junior said, "I bet you're gonna jump on a plane now and get that on the air."

"No", I said, "I'm going to get a few shots of you playing golf and then I'm going to jump on a plane and get that on the air." Junior laughed.

We were talking about the course and his golf game as we wandered inside the ropes toward the first tee at Pebble Beach, when Junior introduced me to his playing partners for the day, who happened to be his Florida neighbors, Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara.

"I flip him a lot of crap", Junior said of me, "but he's a good guy."

It was one of those moments I couldn't believe what was happening to me was real.

Aaron and I raced to a satellite truck to feed the interview back to KIRO. On the way, I was stopped by a reporter from ESPN, who asked me if I had talked to Junior about the trade rumors and if she could borrow the interview.

I told her yes, we did discuss it, and no, there was not a chance in hell she could borrow my interview.

The interview was a big story in Seattle, and really put me on the map as a reporter in town.

I never talked to Junior again after that day. When he came back to Seattle for his victory tour at the end of his career, I wasn't doing sports full-time anymore, but I did happen to be in the Mariners' clubhouse one night, and our eyes met briefly. Neither of us said anything, but I think he recognized me. Maybe he didn't. I don't know.

Junior knew that he was giving me a gift that day at Pebble Beach with that "scoop", my first big one in Seattle. I will forever be grateful to Junior for that.

Congratulations on your much-deserved induction into the Hall of Fame, Junior. And thank you for what you have done for our city.