Playing Favorites (My Guy Got Traded in the Same Deal)
I was on the other side of last week’s Justin Upton trade. Like Mr. Googs, I felt the sting of seeing my favorite player on my favorite baseball team shipped out. Reading his paen to Martin Prado the other day got me thinking about my relationships with my favorite athletes, and it made me realize a sad thing: I don’t really have too many of them anymore.
Kudos to SpreeGoogs for transitioning so smoothly between favorite baseball players. I really mean that. It helps that the Braves have been good for your entire life and the roster’s always stocked with pretty good players to choose from, but to be able to single out one guy as your bottom bro and stick with him for the duration of his tenure is, I think, pretty rare these days. It sounded like there was some genuine emotion involved there, and I’m sorry you lost your buddy.
The criteria for Justin Upton being my favorite baseball player were less personal and mostly based on the potential happiness I believed he would provide for me, vis-à-vis hitting the baseball far and often, making the D-backs’ points go up enough to hopefully win a sport thing so that I could have smiles. That’s true of all guys on your favorite team, sure, but for some reason I wanted Upton to assert himself as The Guy. So I did things like time my bathroom breaks around his next at-bats, or check the in-progress box score whenever I saw that Arizona scored a run, hoping it was via an Upton RBI (this is probably the exact opposite of what Kevin Towers did, because if there’s one thing that guy loved it was obliterating Justin Upton’s trade value). But I might start doing those things with Paul Goldschmidt now.
I’ve dealt with a true, heartwrenching Player vs. Laundry conundrum as recently as last year, when magician-haired demigod Steve Nash left the Suns. If losing Upton was my favorite restaurant no longer serving bacon mac & cheese but still keeping 3 or 4 decent other apps/zerts, losing Nash was my favorite restaurant no longer serving bacon mac & cheese but everything else on the menu is vegan and I never noticed it.
It’s because of the Nash situation that I disagree a little with Sir Spree’s assertation that a favorite player must play for a favorite team without exception. It would be patently ridiculous for me to go to an NBA-themed party (as I am wont to do) and exclaim that Goran Dragic is my favorite basketball player in the year 2013. In fact, my favorite Suns player this season is Dan Majerle, and he is 1. not an active player 2. a coach and 3. not even a coach anymore. Teams endure, players don’t, and as long as you have a rock-solid relationship with your favorite team, ain’t no shame in the keeping your favorite player game*. It’s especially hard to break ties when the player is a community pillar, or the author of exemplary on-field moments (pulling “The Prado”), or a twitter/YouTube sensation while playing for your team.
The nature of professional sports make picking a favorite player tough, especially as an adult. We all have team-independent sometimes-favorites, like Mike Trout or Brian Wilson or Brian Scalabrine. And you can respect guys for their talents, but it’s not as easy as that brain-seared moment when Ballplayer X hit a foul ball to you when you were a kid (for tossing the game ball to me during a timeout when I was 9, Jess Kersey is forever my favorite NBA referee). It takes some truly extraordinary effort to earn the favorite tag at this stage. For me, it’s been Nash and Shawn Marion since I turned 18. Justin Upton’s been as close as it’s come in baseball, but as I think about the trade more, I’m more upset with the D-backs’ modest haul than I am with losing Upton.
*no merchandise of player’s new team, though. I’m looking at you, Heat fans when LeBron signs with the Lakers in 2014.