It’s a significant question. One you can’t afford to get wrong. The asker will judge you. The jersey you purchase can become an expensive regret. The emotional impact alone of tying your feelings to another’s may ultimately be too much to bear. Who’s your favorite player?
We find ourselves at this question in many different ways. Maybe you’re new to a team, looking for a favorite player to cement your fandom. Sometimes, when your team’s collective performance isn’t quite doing it for you, it’s good to have an individual’s victories to celebrate. Perhaps you’ve lost your favorite player – through retirement, a trade, or free agency. Worst of all, your favorite player has let you down, forcing you to realign your love. Whatever the cause, it’s a pivotal moment in a fan’s relationship with a team. Consider your options carefully, the stakes are too high for a bad decision.
Check out Alex and Braeden’s recent discussion on weekends of baseball, including rooting for individuals and the cost of letting yourself love a single player too much. (Spoiler: Pujols’ departure from St. Louis is a hurt you don’t get over.)
Photo by rocor via Flickr
Most teams have this option, and most fans go with it. That’s why this player is the all-star. This is the player who carries the team on their shoulders, whether or not their performance that game merits the role (though it typically does). Establishing this player as your favorite keeps your fandom and emotions strongly aligned to the team’s performance overall.
Pros: You’re probably safe from needing to pick a new favorite any time soon, if your team has the budget to hold on to them
Cons: Points deducted for lack of originality, and in a small market team you might find them headed off to bigger payrolls all too soon
How to find them: Do a quick scan of jersey backs – who’s on half of them or more?
Smells like Team Spirit
Photo by Michael Miller via Wikipedia
Your team spirit probably isn’t responsible for the game-winner, but the environment that enabled the game-winner is definitely to their credit. If you’ve been brought to the team by its happy-go-lucky attitudes and precious antics, picking a player for the spice they bring to the season is the right choice for you.
Pros: Who doesn’t love a party?
Cons: Without a strong measurable contribution, this player’s position on the team is often precarious
How to find them: Check out social media, both by and about the team; this player’s sure to have a strong following on the Interwebs.
Photo by slgckgc via Flickr
While the team’s top performer and all-star often overlap, that’s not always the case. Depending on your metric of choice, other players can rise to the peak. If you’ve gone seriously into analytics or simply want to reward excellence, choosing a top performer who isn’t the all-star validates your serious fandom and dedication to the sport.
Pros: Excellence is always appealing
Cons: Everybody slumps, and you’re going to feel it a lot harder when your favorite player was defined by performance
How to find them: Choose your preferred stat (wins above replacement, most points, however you’re feeling) and find who’s at the top of the list.
Best Off-Field Attitude
Photo by Lisa Gansky via Flickr
Particularly on a team of strong contenders for favorite player, an athlete’s off-field attitude may be what ultimately captures your heart. Often a go-to for the fan who’s more interested in bigger subjects than just a game (I hear there are such topics in the world), this player has decided to make their contribution to the world outside of athletics.
Pros: Celebrate the player who’s also a human who merits your support
Cons: Rooting for someone for reasons outside of sports might step you back from the sport that brought you together in the first place
How to find them: Steep yourself in team news. Watch for the players who exhibit the characteristics you want to celebrate. See who’s most active in local events and community programs.
Photo by dslrnovice via Flickr
This player may not be the very best player on the team, may not have the flashes of sublime greatness you expect from an all-star and may not manage to lead the team in any particular metric. But they also never let you down. I suspect a coach’s favorite too, this is the player who gets it done.
Pros: You’re rewarding the players who earn it day in and day out
Cons: Reliable isn’t exactly sexy description
How to find them: This one takes perseverance – reliability isn’t shown in a weekend. You need to follow a team for at least a season to confirm who the coach and fans turn to in times of trouble, whose mere presence spurs sighs of relief.
Photo by Hickling Images via Flickr
Take a risk and pick a player who’s up-and-coming. Welcome them to the team by being an early adopter, counting on a solid performance – either with your team, or at least doing well enough elsewhere that you’ll be happy to rep where they came from.
Pros: If they make it, a jersey from their early days cements your scouting ability and farsightedness among other fans
Cons: With the overwhelming odds against anyone making it to the show, there’s a sizeable chance you’ll be wearing the name of a great “could have been” for years to come
How to find them: Pay attention to draft position, but also watch for prospect rankings in the media. See who’s performing best at their current level and is most likely to pay off your investment as they establish themselves in the major leagues.
These aren’t your only options, but they’ll give you a good start. If the length of this list teaches you anything, it should be that there’s no right answer for everyone. Someone’s got to be the one wearing a Dan Haren jersey two years after he left the Nationals and the same year he was out of baseball altogether. (Picture not provided because at heart I’m a decent human who doesn’t snap surprise photos of strangers.) But you know what, the man keeps a great Twitter.
Sometimes it’s necessary to take it slow, give yourself some time before committing. Test out a few players in your top three. When the right player comes along, you’ll know.
Cover photo by Kristina Servant via Flickr