I think it’s safe to assume that most of you reading this are fans of the Royals. It’s also probably not much of a stretch to assume you’ve rooted for most of, if not all of, the guys wearing that uniform. But what about guys who weren’t Royals, have you ever rooted for any of them?
When I asked myself this question the first guy who came to mind was former outfielder Mark Kotsay. He’s not exactly a name-brand guy so how did I end up picking him? Back when I first started watching baseball Wizards of the Coast came out with a customizable card game for baseball fans called MLB Showdown. I was living in Washington D.C. in 2001, within walking distance of a WotC store at our local mall. And they had a weekly league. Kotsay was one of the players I got in my starter pack and I kept putting him at the top of my lineups even though his contact number in the game wasn’t great. He would constantly get on base and then steal like crazy for me. The league handed out promotional cards for various feats including leading the league in certain stats for a month at a time. I got a lot of promo cards because of Mark Kotsay’s imagined ability to steal bases for me (though the most he ever stole in a real season was 19) and I’ll always remember him fondly for it.
Al Leiter and Arthur Rhodes were also on most of MLB Showdown teams because they were designed as very good 2-inning relievers and allowed me to fill my rotation with some terrible starters and still win games. Brad Ausmus was a cheap catcher who couldn’t hit for power but had decent speed and a terrific arm rating which prevented other teams from stealing against me. On the flip side Barry Bonds lost any chance of ever being my favorite player because I foolishly traded three foil cards to get him, he was too expensive in the roster building scores to ever actually put in my lineup, and I assumed I’d be able to sell his card on eBay for a pretty good profit but only managed to get $5 for him.
I’m sure lots of you have stories about guys who became your favorites after favorable fantasy baseball performances. I told a story last week about how Albert Pujols became one of mine for that reason. Ben Zobrist found a similar home in my heart for his versatility on my club before he ever appeared in Royal Blue. Bobby Abreu also made me look pretty smart, once upon a time.
And then there were other players - usually pitchers - that I just loved and I’m not always entirely sure why. Mike Mussina was one, I think because he always started opening day against my Royals in Hardball 5. Randy Johnson for his stylish mustache, wild hair, and terrifying scowl. Darryl Kile for reasons I still can’t explain but I was heartbroken when I heard on the radio that he’d died of a heart attack in the middle of the season. Mark McGwire for obvious reasons when you consider I was a kid just trying to get into baseball in 1998.
Speaking of trying to get into baseball in 1998 I actually spent a few months living in D.C. that year, too. Which meant that while it was hard to follow the Royals I could watch almost every Orioles game. That led me to fall in love with guys like B.J. Surhoff, Jeff Reboulet, and Jesse Orosco.
I also remember rooting so hard against the Yankees in the 2001 World Series that I decided I liked a lot of the Diamondbacks. Randy Johnson secured my love by pitching for that team. I actually decided I also really liked Curt Schilling, a decision I regret now. I remember trying to emulate their Korean closer, Byung-Hyun Kim, while throwing submarine tennis balls into our garage door. And I don’t know that I’ll ever forget Luis Gonzalez flipping that little looper just out of the infield to win the series for the Diamondbacks. Heck, that series was so good I even developed a little bit of a soft spot for Alfonso Soriano after he launched a mammoth home run on a pitch that was barely above his shoelaces.
Now it’s your turn. Tell me your stories of non-Royals that you once loved. The odder the story, the better!