So, if not running, then what? Well, my second favoritest sport, BASEBALL! Quite simply, I love baseball and baseball players. Swoon.
See, for as long as I can remember, I have loved baseball. I remember watching the Cardinals & Dodgers on Saturday morning baseball, after cartoons. I remember my parents going grocery shopping and my dad hurrying to get back before the game started. We used to have a semi-pro team back in the day, the Whitewings, and we would spend summer evenings at the park, watching baseball. I remember going to see my brother play Little League, and playing with him and his friends in the back alley (yes, i was 2 years younger, no they didn't take any pity on me), and then later, in junior high, falling deeply in love with nearly all of his teammates. Okay, not all of them, just a notable few that I can still remember quite vividly, seen through the eyes of a 15 year-old girl of course.
Growing up in South Texas, I was an NL fan, because the Astros were closer than the Rangers, and my first major league game was at the Astrodome. I watched every game of the '86 Series, and could once upon a time tell you the entire Mets' lineup from that year. My favorite movies (besides Legends of the Fall, because, um, wow, Brad Pitt. On a horse. rawr) are The Sandlot (you're killing me, Smalls), The Bad News Bears (was anyone ever as cool as Kelly Leak? I thought not), The Natural (the best there ever was), Bull Durham ("Yeah, I was in the show. I was in the show for 21 days once. The 21 greatest days of my life.") and of course, oh of course, Field of Dreams (if you need the quote from here, you can stop reading!!). Baseball brought me and my husband together, as he would wander the halls in our dorm and found me watching September baseball in my dorm room while everyone else was at the bar. And not only did I watch baseball and have an appreciation for the players, but I knew the rules and when something was an E or a hit. I knew rosters and pitching rotations and such.
My love of baseball and all things diamond-related really fueled our relationship early on. We would listen to Rangers' games in the parking lot because the car radio was the only one that could catch WBAP down in Austin. We could rarely agree on movies, but we always were up for watching the game, regardless of who was playing. We saw George Brett's last game before he retired, and we closed down the pit of a dump off the turnpike, Arlington Stadium. College baseball is a perennial favorite at our house - easy to do when you have the awesome history and tradition of Gusball and Augie Garrido at the helm. Even before we got married we shared season tickets at the new Ballpark in Arlington (he had by then converted me to a full-time AL girl and sigh, Rangers fan). For our wedding gift to each other, we chose a signed and framed print of the new ballpark and the players on the 1994 team, with bonus signatures of Juan Gonzales and Ivan Rodriguez. We had actually planned a Hall of Fame honeymoon, complete with stops at the new park in Baltimore, Fenway, Yankee Stadium and Cooperstown, but that didn't work out. We got married on August 13, 1994, the day after the strike cancelled the rest of the '94 season.
When life and work and kids intervened after that, we quit going to the games so much. It seemed like baseball post-strike wasn't quite as fun, and then you had the heavy 'roid years, where records fell left and right and players were called to court and the game seemed to lose its soul. Having year after year of futility in the Rangers didn't help either. Start off strong in April & May, hold steady in June, start to falter in July and totally fall to pieces in the heat of August. By September, baseball in North Texas was meaningless, unless you wanted to go to the park for dollar hot dog night or fan appreciation day and get random logo schtuff. We still have every program from every game we've ever been to, stuffed inside the footlocker that also stores our baseball cards (yes, our baseball cards. We spent a lot of time in college at card shows. Yes, I know. It is no wonder or question how we ended up together.). Oh, there were glimmers of the old fascination that would pop up now and again. Hints of the love I'd cultivated all my life. For instance, I watched a long-haired Johnny Damon and the Red Sox break the curse and win the World Series, under a full moon on my birthday in 2004 (coincidence? I THINK NOT!).
And then last summer. Oh, last summer. What a whirlwind of chaos and confusion and roller coaster emotions you were to me. But the Rangers, for once, didn't suck. They were actually pretty damn good. And despite my heartbreak, I started to care again. I always swore I wouldn't care about the game or the standings or anything like I used to. But how do you ignore the Claw & Antlers? How? You just can't. Especially not when they bring a freakin World Series to Arlington. So. The baseball love? I'm feeling it again. I am pretty sure I won't ever follow the game or the players as closely as I did back before we were married, back before we had kids and jobs and such. But it is fun to watch again. Mostly. It's always been fun for the eye candy, that is for sure. And this is where we find this post. Have to reward you for getting this far, right? So I give to you, in no particular order, my Top Favorite/Hottest/Most Intense/Awesome/Fun to Watch Baseball Players (heavy on mid-90s Rangers, well, because):
George Brett (1B) The last of the good guys, who played in the era where you were identified with a team and didn't jump from place to place. A franchise player if there ever was one. Known for the big chunk of chaw in his cheek (eeew) and the Pine Tar Incident. But still, one of the most fierce players out there.
Jose Canseco (DH, OF) Probably the most reviled man in baseball for his tell-all books about steroids. Admitted to using them. Still. Watching this man hit a ball was absolute f'ng magic. Just magic. Loved, loved, loved seeing him in a Rangers uniform and swatting the hell outta the left field stands!! I may or may not have a large (think poster-sized) framed photo of him in my office. Unless you come visit me you'll never know...
Jeff Huson (SS) Another Ranger. Always hustling. Never showy or particularly outstanding, except that he was there, every day, every game, looking like he was happy to play and loving the game. I have a Jeff Huson jersey from the Red Shoe Rangers. I love it!
Johnny Damon (CF) Jesus hair. Red Sox. What's not to love? Oh, the Yankees thing? I blame Scott Boras (I blame Scott Boras for a lot of stuff, actually). "Johnny Damon! You got the sweetest ass in the league!"
Keith Hernandez (1B) Mets. '86. What more do you need to know? The Second Spitter episodes of Seinfeld only sealed the deal in this department. Coke use? Smoking in the dugout? Whatever. As he says, "I'm Keith Hernandez!" Added bonus: He has what the American Mustache Institute (did you know there was such a thing?) calls the Top Sports Mustache Ever. Enough said.
Don Mattingly (1B) Donnie Baseball. Yankees. Team captain. Perennial all-star. Mustache to rival Hernandez.
CJ Wilson (P) Really? Look at the picture. Pitched in the only World Series the Rangers have ever played. Smart. Straight-edge. Drives fast, throws strikes. Read this. Swoon.
Joe Mauer (C) I've always liked him. Then I saw a Homecoming with Rick Reilly episode featuring him, and talking about his football prowess, and had him and his brothers playing baseball outside their old family home. He broke a window in the neighbors' garage and they all went running. Hilarious. He did go back and apologize. That episode pushed me to LOVE him!
Nolan Ryan (P) 5714 strikeouts. 324 wins. 7 no-hitters. 8-time Cy Young winner. Played for the Mets, Astros and the Rangers. How can I not love him? Also, him beating the stuffing out of Robin Ventura is possibly the greatest moment on the pitching mound in Arlington besides Kenny Rogers' perfect game in 1994.
Rafael Palmeiro (1B) Yes, I know. Freaking lying, perjuring piece of crap. But, damn. The sports mustache. The hits. The perfectly jet black hair & Keith Hernandez look. This entry may get me kicked out of my house because there may have been an incident in the mall in Austin in the late 80s after their winter caravan appearance in which said player refused my husband an autograph because, "I ain't got no pen, man." He had given me and my friends autographs and photo cards and chatted us up because the publicity on the caravan was awful and we only by chance ran into them but nobody else in the mall seemed to know who they were. So they packed up and went home early, and when Hub saw them on their way out, he was summarily (and according to Hubby, quite rudely) dismissed. So glad he doesn't hold a grudge or anything...
So there you go. My favorite Boys of Summer. And yes, I am fully aware that there is a plethora of both first-basemen and/or mustaches. Let's not dive too deep into that, mkay? thx... And if you'll excuse me now, CJ is pitching tonight against the Rays, which means Johnny Damon. Woot and Squee indeed!!