April 26, 2012

True Confessions

I went to my first baseball game; an Angels game in the late 60’s. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the exact date or a lot of the details, but I do know that in those early years I became a Jim Fregosi fan. He was THE man in Anaheim back in the day.

Fregosi remained my favorite Angel until Bobby Grich came along, but in 1971 I began following a second team from a far – the Pittsburgh Pirates and one player caught my attention more than any other – Roberto Clemente. I’ve written about that experience in my other blog the Baseball Docent.

Clemente could do it all and his 1971 team won a World Series which was significant in many ways. It was the first year that World Series had games at night - paving the way for kids like me to watch them on television. That team had a colorful cast of characters and they were an offensive machine. What kid doesn’t like a team that scores a lot of runs, right?

The catalyst on that team was Roberto Clemente.

Through the years I’ve followed a number of ball players and made a special effort to see them play whenever I could. However, when anyone asked me who my favorite player of all time was, I’d always say Roberto Clemente. I’m not sure if I consciously made him my favorite at a specific time – it just sort of evolved.

Ask me who is my all-time favorite Angel and the answer has been Bobby Grich, obviously. In a perfect world – Grich would probably be my all-time favorite player – but once I claimed Clemete – I never let that go.

Favorites are unique phenomena - we cling to them with a loyalty that’s intense as anything else we might experience in life. No one else and nothing else came ever take their place, right? I mean a favorite is a favorite for a reason.

I guess picking favorite ball players is as much a part of the national pastime as the game itself.

I’ve thought a lot about this and recently came to a conclusion that may surprise you.

Roberto Clemente has been my favorite player for 41 years. That’s a heck of a long time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told people he’s my all-time favorite. The funny thing is that my memories of Clemente are few – as I caught him late in his career and he died tragically at an early age. I only saw him play in a game in person once.

Bobby Grich has been my favorite Angel for more than 30 years. Unlike Clemente, my memories of Grich are many – and he is a huge part of my experience as an Angel fan.

So where am I going with all of this? Let’s just say I have come to realize that I have a new favorite. Wait… stop the presses, right?

Look - when I really think about it, there is one player who really stands out more than any other in all my years of being a baseball fan. He’s not likely to get into the Hall of Fame, but through the years – I have experienced the full range of emotions when watching him play the game and he’s definitely in my own personal Hall of Fame simply because of the amount of joy he has brought me over the years.

He’s provided me with more highlight reel type moments than any other player I’ve ever followed. He’s made me come out of my chair, cheering and screaming many times. He’s also made me laugh a lot because he really knows how to have fun. More than anything – he never fails to make me smile whenever I have any kind of contact or experience with him.

Whenever I see this player – be it on television doing an interview, or interacting with fans at spring training or playing the game itself – I feel joy. That’s right – pure joy. I feel very lucky to have seen this man play the game and even more blessed to have watched him in any kind of spotlight over the years.

So… with all due respect to Roberto Clemente and Bobby Grich – I have to say that Torii Hunter has become my all-time favorite player.

I have an incredible affection for this man. He can light up a stadium with his smile and electrify crowds with his play. His selflessness knows no bounds and he’s truly a role model for young people everywhere. In fact, he’s a role model for people of any age. He is everything one could want in an athlete. He works hard. He plays the game the right way. He has fun and realizes he’s blessed to be doing what he’s doing and he doesn’t take anything for granted.

He’s Torii Hunter and he is truly special. In fact, he’s just awesome.

I could fill up this blog with countless stories about all the wonderful things he does off the field. I can’t tell you how many times he’s made me laugh and smile. And again – he brings me and many others joy and couldn’t we all use a little more joy?

So, why now? Why the realization that Hunter is my new all-time favorite?

Torii Hunter is what baseball is all about. He’s an individual talent who gives his all for a team. He makes me love the game because of the way he represents himself in it. He was my favorite baseball player of this era before he ever came to the Angels and I am so fortunate to have been able to watch him wear the uniform of my favorite team for the past five years. I have loved every moment and still can’t get enough.

He’s in the final year of his contract with the Angels and I have no idea if this will be his last in Anaheim. In fact, I hate thinking about the idea of him not on my favorite team.

I want the Angels to win a world series again for many, many reasons – most of them selfish. But I also want them to win one for a special reason – to see Torii Hunter as a world champion. I want him to feel that sense of accomplishment because I know it will bring him great joy. It would be fitting in so many ways.

So here we are. The Angels are 6-13 and I haven’t blogged since spring training. You might have wondered where I disappeared to (or maybe not). I’ve been here, suffering along with the rest of Angels' nation and I’ve been as frustrated as can be. I’ve agonized over every loss and have often been left speechless after a defeat.

I have felt like ranting; boy, have I felt like ranting, but today is not the day for me to do that. I wanted to bring this blog back to life in style and that’s with something good and hopefully, I’ve done that.

Torii Hunter is my favorite player and I have high hopes that this year will be a special one for him and for Angel fans as well.

In case you’re wondering – I’m not changing the name of this blog because this blog started as a tribute (of sorts) to Bobby Grich, who will always be one of my favorites –but it is always evolving. This blog has always been more about the fan experience more than anything else and that will always be the focus. Maybe this is a turning point of sorts for this blog. We'll see.

Tomorrow is a new day – so let’s hope this post somehow coincides with the emergence of a better Angels’ baseball team. That would do wonders for this fan’s experience for sure. Just saying.

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