I’d always assumed the first time I’d feel old as a sports fan would be when LeBron James retired.

Made sense, right? After all, The King and I were born just six months apart, and graduated high school the same year. We attended our senior proms just two weeks apart (although, as hard as this might be to believe, mine wasn’t a national news story).

And right as LeBron was getting his first taste of the NBA lifestyle after being drafted in 2003, I was getting my first taste of independence as a college freshman.

I always pictured the day, in 2019 or 2020 or 2021, when a graying, balding LeBron would step in front of the cameras and say that he couldn’t do it anymore, that he was retiring from basketball. Somewhere, a graying, balding me would be watching, holding back a tear, and realizing, “Man, I’m getting old.”

When LeBron James, the greatest contemporary athlete of my generation, couldn’t do it anymore, I’d always assumed that a little piece of me as a sports fan would retire with him.

Then Wednesday night happened.

While the nation was transfixed on Armando Galarraga-gate, another, smaller baseball headline scrolled across the bottom of our television screens. Ken Griffey Jr., my first sports hero, announced his retirement.

And man do I feel old.

For anyone under the age of 20 this might be hard to believe, but there was a time in the early and mid-1990s when there wasn’t a bigger superstar than Ken Griffey Jr.

I’m not talking about in baseball. I’m talking about in sports. Period.

(This is just PART of Aaron’s article on his boyhood hero, Ken Griffey Jr. To read the remainder, please click here or visit him at www.aarontorres-sports.com )

Sure basketball had Michael Jordan, but when he went from NBA superstar, to minor league baseball afterthought, back to NBA superstar in the blink of an eye, it rubbed a lot of people (including everyone in my household) the wrong way.

The NFL was in the midst of a semi-identity crisis, caught between the John Elway/Dan Marino era and the Peyton Manning era, with its best team—the Dallas Cowboys—having players who made more headlines for doing drugs and hanging with strippers than for anything they did on the field.

Tennis had Pete Sampras, but believe me when I say that he was about as fun to watch as a Matlock marathon on A&E. And remember too, this was pre-Tiger Woods, so I really couldn’t tell you who the best golfer in the world was. If only because nobody cared about golf.

But Griffey had a 100 percent approval rating. It didn’t matter if you were a Mariners fan, a Red Sox fan, a Yankees fan, whatever.

If you were between the ages of 6 and 13 in 1993, Griffey was your favorite player. End of story.

(Random side note: I remember a time, maybe in kindergarten or first grade, some friends and I were talking baseball at recess. Everyone was saying who his favorite player was. The conversation went like this: Griffey…Griffey…Griffey, Griffey…Griffey…until our last friend defiantly said “Frank Thomas.” We all reacted like he’d told us he was going in for a sex change operation. Seriously.)

Everyone wanted to be like “The Kid.” Everyone in Little League, fought over who got to wear No. 24. Everyone wanted to play center field.

I dressed like him one Halloween. I even coaxed my parents into buying me an $80 Griffey jersey at Sports Authority one day (why I remember the price, I have no idea). I wore the jersey on the first day of school, and pretty much every day after that too, until someone made fun of me for wearing the same shirt everyday.

Looking back, it probably was a bit unhygienic, but you know what? I think that little prick was probably just jealous he didn’t have a Griffey jersey of his own.

At his peak Griffey was bigger than any baseball player is now, and it wasn’t even close. He was on Wheaties boxes. He was one of the first athletes to have his own video game (this seems minor now, but believe me in 1994 this was a big deal). I even remember re-arranging my schedule on a Monday night so that I could catch an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that he made a minor cameo on. In the episode Hilary went ga-ga over him.

No more so than every little kid in America did at the same time.

On the field, Griffey was that transcendent athlete who endeared himself to young and old, black and white, male and female. He always wore his trademark backwards hat, accompanied by a huge smile, and carried himself confidently without ever being cocky. For us young folks he hit enough home runs to keep us coming back to our TVs every time he came to bat, and for the baseball purists he played about as flawless a center field as you’ll ever see…

(To read the REMAINDER of this article, and read the rest of Aaron’s thoughts on his boyhood hero, please click HERE or visit Aaron at www.aarontorres-sports.com

Also, for Aaron’s thoughts on all things sports, be sure to follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres and Facebook.com/AaronTorresSports )

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