The first baseball game I attended was the Texas Rangers v. Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in 1989. On that day, I was hooked. Only four years removed from a World Series title, it seemed a good decision to become a Royals fan. Twenty two years later, I almost wish the first place I saw a game wasn't at Kauffman. The Royals haven't exactly rewarded my fan allegiance. Too late to turn back now, too many sunk costs. I'm fully invested in the Royals for good or bad for the rest of my life.
While the Royals became my favorite team, that didn't mean their roster had all, or even any, of my favorite players. Before cynicism and critical thinking took their reins on my brain, my favorite players played all over the league. I didn't care if some of these players had terrible on base percentages, bad range in the field, or a xFIP that told me they weren't as good as they seemed. I rooted for guys based on some arcane rationale like seeing them have a great game, having a bunch of their baseball cards, or that they had gone to the same college as some adult I knew.
These players from my childhood can't be forgotten. I idolized them without critique, I was a young baseball fan. Today, I don't have any favorite players. In some ways this makes me sad, as it is a sign of growing up. I don't idolize the guys on the field anymore, I just watch them because I love the sport. No player is seen as perfect anymore. Sometimes I feel as though I only watch to spot weaknesses in any and all players instead of just watching to enjoy baseball for the simple game that it is.
Even in my youth I still had some bit of critical thought in me though. I didn't like the Braves, Yankees or Rangers. I hated Cal Ripken and Brady Anderson even though 80% of the games I went to in this era were at Camden Yards to watch the Orioles. For whatever reason I didn't cheer for the perceived supreme talent of the era in Ken Griffey, Jr. because I just didn't like the guy.
In an effort to get back to these times of naive youth, I went back and looked at the players I once idolized. Today, I might not like many of these players. But in a time not so long ago, I looked past the flaws and rooted for these guys. Here is my All-Childhood Team.....
C: Mickey Tettleton: The only Oriole I ever really rooted for. Maybe it was the name Mickey as my father's favorite childhood star was Mickey Mantle, maybe it was the home run numbers, I don't know but he got my attention when he hit a home run for the Orioles in the first game I saw them play at the old Memorial Stadium. From that point on, I rooted for him. Looking back at his career, he's a guy I wouldn't mind rooting for now as his numbers hold up. A cautionary tale as well, as his career didn't take off until he got regular player time at the age of 28. By that point, the team that drafted him, the Athletics, had given up on him.
1B: Mark Grace: This one is a product of WGN. Before the age of endless cable networks and options to watch out of town games on the internet, it was harder to see a lot of action. That wasn't a problem for the Cubs thanks to WGN. If a rerun of MacGyver or Saved By The Bell wasn't on, I tuned into an afternoon game at Wrigley. Grace was the Cub I rooted for. He wasn't the prototype power guy at first, but he had a smooth swing, almost never struck out, and looked pretty good in the field. Only later did I learn that he chain smoked between innings, but I still think he was the right Cub to root for.
2B: Damion Easley: The classic example of a guy who had a good game when I saw him. Not once, but twice. The first time was at Camden Yards when he hit two home runs and stole two bases. That certainly grabbed my attention. But then he did it again, this time in Boston. At Fenway, I saw him hit two more home runs and steal four bases. At that age it felt like I was the kid he hit them for, that he knew I was there. Only downside to the game in Boston was having a drunk Red Sox fan spill a beer on me in the cramped right field seats. A 11 year old reeking of beer is not the best situation, but my man Easley perfomed for me, and that was all I wanted as a kid.
3B: Todd Zeile: This one is simple when looking through the eyes of a young fan. I went to the now defunct "Dodgertown" in Florida with my family one Spring Training. Clothed in a Royals hat and t-shirt, I tried in vain to get the likes of Mike Piazza and Eric Karros to sign an autograph to no avail. As my hope was vanishing, along came Zeile. Not only did he sign a ball and a card, he took a picture with me that is still framed in my childhood bedroom to this day.
SS: Tony Fernandez: By the late 1990's he was more of a utility man, but I first remember him as a shortstop for the the Blue Jays. Unfortunately for him, the Blue Jays went on to win two straight titles directly after trading him to the Padres. In 1987 he finished 8th in the MVP voting despite only having 42 XBH's, my how times have changed. Would a guy even be considered for MVP today with a 805 OPS?
LF: Moises Alou: A guy I think was a little underappreciated throughout his career. Question, why did the Pirates trade this guy? Zane Smith was good for the Pirates, but you just don't see #2 overall picks get traded before even getting a chance to make an impact for the team that drafted them nowadays. I was constantly told stories of the Alou brothers by my father, thus, I decided to root for the next generation Alou. He's probably the best position player that I rooted for.
CF: Marquis Grissom: I'd love to put Bo Jackson here, but the time I saw him at his peak was so short that Grissom is the more remembered player. I had a soft spot for the Candian teams as a kid, more so for the now defunct Montreal Expos. Grissom had his flaws as he was a below average player before he was 30, but I remember him as a defensive dynamo in center with a little pop at the plate and some serious wheels.
RF: Bobby Higginson: Another AL Central player? Yes, but there is a reason here. Most of my extended family went to Temple University like Higginson did, so he had that built in aspect going for him. I would've rooted for him no matter who he played for, he just happened to end up in Detroit. He was a pretty good player for awhile until his power left him and his back went out.
DH: Glenallen Hill: He was my undisputed favorite player. I still don't know why. He never played for my favorite team, had an All-Star season or a memorable postseason moment. Even so, I gave him the nickname "G Money", traded for him in every videogame I purchased, and used the nickname I gave him as the basis for my first America Online account. I can only hope I get to a Rockies game soon so I can somehow meet him as my childhood fondness for him has not faded with time.
Pitcher: Bret Saberhagen: The one player on the list who had his best years as a Royal. He was the starting pitcher for the Royals in my first game at the K. His candidacy on the team is helped by giving me an autograph twice after Orioles games.
Pitcher: Pedro Martinez: Does he really need an explanation? If I had to pick one player to freeze in time at their peak and watch them over and over again, Martinez would be the easy selection.
Pitcher: Bill Swift: My uncle's college roomate. Once I learned that he was one of my favorites.
Pticher: Andy Benes: Like Alou, I think Benes was a player who didn't get the recognition he deserved. Maybe not to the extent of Alou, but Benes was pretty damn good throughout the entire 90's.
Pitcher: Chuck Finley: This guy was just the epitome of cool to me when I was young.
That's my team sans relievers. I will now go back to playing on my Sega Genesis.