Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Picking a Favorite
As we rub our eyes, adjusting to the shine of the dewy new season of baseball, it's tempting to try to tackle all the decisions the team will be facing in spring training. Handle the closer this way! Put this guy in the fifth spot of the rotation! Let him platoon in left! But let's slow our roll a bit. There will be plenty of time to chat about these minor (ahem, overplayed) issues. Today, I'm going to think about a simpler question.
I was speaking to somebody at work yesterday and they asked me about the coming baseball season because they know I'm a big fan. I kind of skimmed over a couple thoughts before they hit me with a question I realized I haven't really given much thought in a while. "Who's your favorite player?"
I had no answer. I knew there were guys I liked more than others, but every time I'd hit on one player as a candidate, I'd remember another. As my co-worker looked at me askew as I fumbled over such a simple question, I knew this required more thought than I could give it while chatting at the copier. To the internet!
I pulled up the Tigers' 40-man roster and got down to the business of tackling this dilemma. The names before me quickly separated themselves into groups in my mind, and what follows are some words on each of the groups.
Darin Downs, Kyle Lobstein, Luis Marte, Melvin Mercedes, Jose Ortega, Luke Putkonen, Ramon Cabrera, Bryan Holaday, Brayan Pena, Jeff Kobernus, Dixon Machado and Hernan Perez
These guys are literally nobody's favorite players. Melvin Mercedes' mom could come to a game and she'd be wearing a Verlander jersey. I have nothing against any of these guys (yet), but they have to put in some time to get into conversations like this.
Duane Below, Casey Crosby, Drew Smyly, Danny Worth, Andy Dirks and Brayan Villarreal
This group of guys are players I watched come through the Tigers' system when I was writing about the farm system. I've had email conversations with Below and Crosby's brothers. I've made arguments that Smyly and Dirks might play higher than their tools suggest. I got excited about Worth's defense when I noticed the Tigers sent him to Lakeland straight from the draft (a rarity). I've asked people not to overlook Villarreal among all the Porcello or Turner hubbub. I tried to be objective when I covered the minors, but I found myself pulling for each of these guys for various reasons.
Ramon Santiago and Brennan Boesch
These are the guys on the roster who I'd prefer not to see on the roster. I have nothing against Sneaky Power. I just think he's a bit redundant at this point. Boesch? I'm afraid that if he sticks around, he will gravitate toward a meaningful role on the team. If that happens, balls struck toward left field will cause opponents to gravitate toward second base.
Get behind me
I've never seen Rondon throw a single pitch, but I can already see myself defending him from unfair criticisms. So I'll just say I'm ready to like him.
Octavio Dotel and Torii Hunter
Each of these players will have key roles with the team in the coming year. But when their careers are over, nobody will think of them as Tigers and that makes it tough to throw a "favorite" endorsement behind them. I will say Hunter knows his way around a fanfest, though. Now about the homophobia and throwing teammates under the bus...
Knowing their place
Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta
These guys don't venture particularly close to my inner circle of favorites, but over the course of the season people will overstate the harm they're causing the team. I will point out that while they are not stars, they are solid contributors. They're like the movie that's not great, but has enough good parts that you don't mind having it on TNT while you goof around on Twitter. Omar Infante is National Treasure. Peralta is Crimson Tide.
We had a moment
Al Alburquerque, Anibal Sanchez, Quintin Berry, Rick Porcello, Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Avisail Garcia
These guys have all done things that have raised my appreciation for them. You know what I'm talking about. Kiss a baseball. Let loose a scream. Show the love. Tackle an asshole. Wear goofy smirks and ridiculous wound dressings. Kill the Yankees and spike a glove. Ease my fear of fly balls to right. I appreciate all these things and more about these guys. It's just not enough to take them into the upper echelon of my esteem.
Doug Fister, Victor Martinez and Prince Fielder
I love these guys. If you plucked any of them from this team and placed them in various other points in Tiger history, I could see any of them stepping up as my favorite. Fister's vexing stuff and apparent unassuming nature? Martinez's clutch hits and Little Victor? Prince hopping while he waited for the series ending out against the Yankees? This stuff is gold! It's just not quite enough to make the final cut.
The Made Men
Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Alex Avila, Miguel Cabrera and Austin Jackson
These are my boys. You speak ill of these guys and you and me? We got a problem. I had originally intended to talk about each individually in a countdown to my favorite. That was before I realized I could not rank them. It's like looking at my two dogs and two cats and trying to pick which of the four I like more. Well, it would be like that if I liked my cats anywhere near as much as I do my dogs. What can I say? I like my pets to welcome me home. My cats greet me like I'm their employee showing up for work a minute early.
Pet politics aside, to get to this rarefied air you have to mix performance and personality. You have to rise up to be among the best at what you do and then ice the cake by behaving in a way that makes us like you even more. If you were to be traded, I'd be mad that you're no longer taking the field for the Tigers. But I'd also miss the cuts to your goofy antics in the dugout. When faced with the question of "Who's My Tiger?" This is as close as I can get to an answer.