SEATTLE -- Ken Griffey Jr., whose likeness already is permanently enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y., now has a forever home at Safeco Field, too. The Mariners unveiled a bronze statue of their first National Baseball Hall of Famer at the front entrance to the stadium on Thursday.
The seven-foot tall statue will greet fans at the Home Plate Gate, on the corner of Edgar Martinez Drive and Dave Niehaus Way. It's just the second statue installed at the stadium, and it was created by Chicago artist Lou Cella, the same sculptor who did the Niehaus statue that has been a fixture in the right-center-field concourse since 2011.
"They did an unbelievable job from top to bottom," Griffey said. "This is unbelievable. That is the word I'd use. Incredible, unbelievable. The craziness hasn't stopped. It's very humbling."
Miniature versions of the statue will be given to 45,000 fans at Friday's 7:10 p.m. PT game against the Rangers. Among the 45,000 replica statues will be 24, passed out at random, that have been autographed by Griffey.
The bronzed Griffey is wearing a 1997 uniform -- from his American League MVP Award-winning season -- adorned with the Mariners' 20th anniversary patch from that year on one sleeve and a Jackie Robinson patch on the other. And it captures the classic Griffey pose at the end of his swing, watching a home run carry into the distance.
"It's nice. It looks like me. Good extension, eyesight in the right spot, looking up, not high, but I'm looking at that like it's 450-ish," Griffey said with a smile.
Cella compared Griffey's pose to Michael Jordan's for the NBA, and he said it was an honor to be asked to create the sculpture.
"I've been blessed and able to do a number of Hall of Famers," Cella said. "But this, probably outside of Frank Thomas, is the first where I got to enjoy his career, watching him from Day 1. This was really special to me. The name really means something to the sport."
Griffey, 47, became the first Mariners player inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on July 24, setting a record by being named on 99.3 percent of the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballots. He subsequently became the first Mariner to have his number retired by the organization.
"Seattle has gone over and above my expectations of an organization," Griffey said. "It's been a whirlwind for the last 18 months. It's hard to describe. I just try to sit back and not do anything, because I don't want to mess it up."
Now Griffey becomes the first player to be bronzed for future generations to walk past as they enter the ballpark's gates. And that wasn't lost on him as he pondered his permanent place in Seattle.
"It's a little frightening, but I might get used to it," Griffey said with a smile. "But when [team president Kevin Mather] told me, I took a step back. He said, 'I'd like to talk to you about something.' I thought he wanted to talk about baseball stuff. He said, 'No, what do you think about a statue?'
"I said, 'Of who?" and he looked at me, 'You, dummy.' I didn't really know what to think. I was shocked the organization would do something like that for me."
But Mather and the rest of the Mariners organization knew better.
"Since this ballpark opened in 1999, we've been waiting to complete the look at our front door, the finishing touch," Mather said. "Today we finally have the perfect piece that will welcome fans for generations to come."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.