You watch enough baseball, you wind up with some favorites. Let's start with the guy who made history yesterday.
Mike Cameron, center fielder, Seattle Mariners. This guy came over in a seemingly lopsided trade two years ago for a guy even non-baseball fans have heard of, Ken Griffey Jr., the player credited with "saving" the Seattle franchise and a surefire future Hall of Famer who got tired of being in Seattle and forced a trade. Cameron has filled Griffey's shoes ably, by playing hard, professionally, gracefully, and passionately. Here's a guy who's impossible not to root for; when the Mariners extended his contract he grinned from ear to ear and said "I can't believe it, I've got 15 million dollars"; last year when he got picked for the all-star team, he grinned from ear to ear and said "it's a dream come true." He's also an incredible defender, maybe even better than Griffey was, a solid hitter, and a good baserunner. Then there's last night, May 2. Cammy made major league history, becoming only the 13th player ever to hit four home runs in a game, and only the fifth to do it in consecutive at-bats. He almost hit a fifth homer, which no one's ever done, in the 9th inning, but his fly ball got caught at the warning track. Also, in the first inning of the game yesterday, Cameron and Bret Boone became the first teammates ever to hit back-to-back home runs twice in the same inning. The Mariners scored 10 runs in that first inning.
Pedro Martinez, starting pitcher, Boston Red Sox. He's the best pitcher of his generation. There's a talent differential between him and everyone else that recalls Sandy Koufax in the '60s. I mean he is good. He also happens to be remarkably articulate -- a good-looking Dominican guy with a musical accent who jokes playfully with the media sometimes, and at others makes incredibly poignant remarks like comparing pitching to working in his rose garden. You also want to root for him because he's a little guy who doesn't look like he'd have this phenomenal athletic ability, maybe 5'11, 160 pounds. Because he's so small, there's a lot of concern that he won't last; the refrain has become something like "he puts so much torque on that little frame." By the way, Koufax retired at 31 at the peak of his success with arthritis in his pitching elbow. Pedro is now pitching with a slight tear in his shoulder and everyone says he's not himself, even though he's been pitching reasonably effectively.
Nomar Garciaparra, shortstop, Boston Red Sox. OK, this guy is first of all, very good. He also has a terrific baseball name. And I love the all-out way he plays. His footwork at shortstop is like that of a soccer forward; his arm is a cannon. But what I really love are all his bizarre eccentricities: the way he unfastens and refastens his batting gloves between every pitch, the way he taps his toes while waiting for each pitch, the way he skips the top step of the dugout when he goes in after an inning, the way he takes off his mitt and taps it three times. He's one of them most superstitious players I've ever seen.
Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, starting pitchers, Arizona Diamondbacks. How can you not pull for guys that ugly?
Jesse Orosco, relief pitcher. Another ugly one, but what I love about Orosco is his incredible tenaciousness. This guy's been pitching -- effectively -- in the major leagues since the '70s, for God's sake. He's middle-aged! But he's proof that if you're left-handed and can throw a ball anywhere near the strike zone, you'll probably have a job in baseball pretty much as long as you want.
Mike Morgan, relief pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks. Here's another guy who's been around forever. I think he has the record for most teams pitched for. He got thrown out there when he was barely out of high school in like 1978 by the Oakland A's, and left to sink or swim. Well he sank. And he kept sinking for like a decade. But through perseverence and sheer force of will he kept at it, and has managed to pitch reasonably effectively for many different teams, and last year he finally got a ring. He also wears some of the dirtiest caps ever seen.
Ricky Henderson, left fielder, Boston Red Sox. Rickey's another one who's been around for ages, but he's famous for a lot of other things. Like being the all-time stolen base king, the all-time runs king, and the greatest leadoff hitter ever. He speaks of himself in the third person. He's also become sort of the Yogi Berra of his age with his tendency for offbeat and unintentionally hilarious remarks. Even today when Rickey takes the field at 43 years old, a shadow of his former self, he's exciting to watch.
Barry Bonds, left fielder, San Francisco Giants. This guy gets a bum rap, because he's never been willing to play the media game. He's not an effusive personality, but I think there are plenty of worse guys in baseball than Barry Bonds. You probably know that he set the home run record last year. He's also probably one of the five greatest hitters ever. He's no slouch on the bases or in the field either.
Just a few others. Al Leiter, starting pitcher, Mets -- bulldog. Greg Maddux, starting pitcher, Braves -- one of the most cerebral pitchers you'll ever see. Tim Wakefield, relief pitcher, Red Sox and Steve Sparks, starting pitcher, Tigers -- I love knuckleballers. Mark McLemore, infielder/outfielder, Mariners -- I love guys who can play every position. Barry Zito, starting pitcher, A's -- I love wacky lefties. Kasuhisa Ishii, starting pitcher, Dodgers -- this guy has an amazing curveball (Zito's got a great one too). Vladimir Guerrero, outfielder, Expos -- totally unorthodox in every way, but a great player. Mark Grace, first baseman, Diamondbacks. The guy chain-smokes. How awesome is that?