SEATTLE -- The greatest player in franchise history brought Seattle baseball fans to cheers and tears one more time Saturday as Ken Griffey Jr. was inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame.
A sellout crowd at Safeco Field roared in appreciation time and again as Griffey spoke for nearly 24 minutes in an unscripted thank-you speech to the organization, his former teammates and everyone associated with his sparkling Seattle career.
Griffey, who thrilled the Mariners' faithful for 13 seasons, became the seventh member of the club's Hall of Fame, joining Alvin Davis (1997), Dave Niehaus (2000), Jay Buhner ('04), Edgar Martinez ('07), Randy Johnson ('12) and Dan Wilson ('12).
All five former players were in attendance at Saturday's pregame ceremony, along with Marilyn Niehaus, the widow of the Mariners' Hall-of-Fame broadcaster.
"I am truly honored and humbled to be associated with these people here," Griffey said during his speech that lasted longer than double the scheduled 10 minutes. "And I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I wasn't going to speak this long, because I never prepare for anything. I don't have a speech. I just speak from the heart. I think that's the most important thing.
"I may have sometimes been standoffish, I didn't mean to. I just wanted to play baseball. That's the only thing that mattered, playing and winning ballgames for this team. I want to thank all of you, and the Mariners organization, for letting me be part of something special. I just want to say thank you."
Griffey, 43, still ranks sixth among baseball's all-time home run leaders at 630 and is 15th in RBIs with 1,836. He played in 13 All-Star Games, won 10 Gold Glove Awards, seven Silver Slugger Awards, four American League home run titles and one AL Most Valuable Player honor ('97).
He'll be eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016 and is a surefire first-ballot inductee after a superlative 22-year-career in Seattle, Cincinnati and Chicago. But Seattle was where, in his own words, "I became a man," joining the Mariners as a precocious 19-year-old in 1989 and earning 10 of his All-Star berths while wearing the blue.
Current Mariners players lined the dugout rail to take in the ceremony for the man who now works as a special consultant to the club. And Griffey spoke directly to that group, only several of whom are still around from his final season in 2010.
"I want to say something to the guys to my left," he said, pointing to the dugout. "We were just like you, all of us sitting here. I was 19, Jay was 22, 23. Randy 22-23. We grew up, we believed in each other and you guys can do it, too."
He had a rapt audience in attendance, as well.
"I think it's pretty awesome just to be here for the induction ceremony as a fan, first of all," said rookie shortstop Brad Miller, who was born the year Griffey began his Major League career. "Just as a fan of his and what he did in his career for the Mariners. It's pretty special."
Miller, like many of the younger Mariners, grew up playing Griffey's video games and emulating his style.
"I was all Ken Griffey Jr.," Miller said. "He was definitely the guy I looked up to all the time. I tried to hit like him, tried to get my Griffey Jr. follow-through. He was who I wanted to be."
Outfielder Dustin Ackley echoed the thoughts of most Mariners, noting it's fun to wear the same uniform and play for the same club as the man who put baseball on the map in Seattle.
"It's awesome, just to be in the presence of him and know the things he's done here," Ackley said. "Being a part of the same organization that he helped make what it is today is pretty cool."
Saturday's ceremony included a four-minute video packed with Griffey's memorable plays and another video tribute with messages from dignitaries around baseball, including a touching tip of a backward cap from Ichiro Suzuki.
"You were my hero growing up," Suzuki said, speaking in English. "Our time together was brief, but I'll always remember it. I know you don't like the Yankees, but I hope you will accept my congratulations on getting into the Mariners Hall of Fame. Congratulations to my hero on a great honor."
One of Griffey's own childhood heroes, Willie Mays, also made an appearance via video.
"I think you're a cinch to be in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown," Mays said. "I'll be there. You can count on that."
Those tributes made the night all the more special for Griffey.
"To have the godfather of center fielders say something like that means a lot," said Griffey of Mays' comments. "I got a chance to talk to him off and on growing up, more than a whole lot of people. You find out how giving he is and what he means to every African American center fielder you see out there. You know you can play baseball when you start getting compared to him. Then you look at his numbers and that will bring you back to Earth real quick."
But on this night, Griffey was in his own universe. Back atop the Mariners baseball world, basking in the glow of the city that spawned his remarkable career. Center stage in Seattle, one last time.