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Junior’s back where he belongs – with the M’s

My, oh my: The Kid is coming back.

And all of a sudden, some of that old Seattle Mariner magic is back with him.

Fans hoping that Ken Griffey Jr. would end his career back where it started were coming to grips earlier this week with being jilted yet again. It looked like he was going to sign with the Atlanta Braves to be closer to his family in Florida.

Good riddance, M’s fans rationalized. Let Atlanta have him and his bum knee. At 39, he’s too old; spend the money signing a promising up-and-comer.

But then surprise, surprise. Somewhere along the way, Griffey’s heart won out over his head and he decided to return to the club he left in 1999 after 11 years (apparently after a strong nudge by the great Willie Mays and former Mariner Harold Reynolds). Griffey’s coming back to play at Safeco Field – “the house that Junior built.”

All is forgiven. Now we can’t wait to see him in a Mariners uniform again with his old number, 24.

This is a good move for the team. Arguably the greatest Mariner of all time, Griffey is the team’s home run leader and fifth on baseball’s career home run list with 611. Does anyone doubt – short of a steroid scandal la Alex Rodriguez – that he will be voted into Cooperstown as soon as he’s eligible?

Despite bailing on the Mariners a decade ago, Griffey has remained a favorite with Northwest fans. They cheered him when he returned to Seattle in 2007 as a Cincinnati Red and gave him standing ovations when he hit two home runs in the last of a three-game series. Compare that to the razzing Rodriguez always gets when he plays at Safeco.

But the two superstars had left for different reasons: Griffey to be near his family, Rodriguez for the richest contract in baseball history. And deep in their hearts, many Mariner fans hoped Junior would return someday. He fueled those hopes in 2007 by declaring that he’d like to retire as a Seattle Mariner: “I grew up here. I owe it to myself and the fans of Seattle to retire here.”

Now that looks like a real possibility. He’s signed a one-year, $2 million contract with another $2 million in incentives to be a designated hitter and maybe play a little left field. He’s had knee surgery and passed a team physical. And even though his 2008 season wasn’t stellar, the rejuvenated Griffey is sure to bring something to a team that has been struggling – maybe a little of that old magic that seems to have been missing of late.

Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said, “It is great to have the icon of the Seattle Mariners back home, where he belongs.”

We second that emotion.

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