Friday, April 19, 2024

"The way he plays the game." What does that mean?

Baseball has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. I started playing the game when I was five years old. I was actually too young to be on the team. My dad made me the batboy for the games, but I got to practice with the team.  

From that first practice until after I graduated high school, we played ball every chance we got. Playing catch, hotbox(Pickle, or rundowns, whatever you want to call it) or hitting flyballs and grounders to each  other, we were playing baseball. If we could round up enough guys we'd play a pick up game. Some of my best memories with my buddies is centered around baseball. My best friends today are the guys that I grew up playing ball with.

I'm not sure how or maybe if it was just the times, but we all played the game the same way. First and foremost, we loved to play. Second, we played with toughness. Win or lose we played every game like it mattered. Every at bat counted. Defense was played with an attitude of whatever it takes to make the play. After games, not a single player didn't have a dirty uniform. Third, we played for the team. It wasn't about our own stats or accolades, it was all about the team. Sacrifice bunts and sac flies were celebrated like home runs because it helped the team. Lastly, we played the game with integrity and sportsmanship. Cheating the game wasn't even a thought. Sportsmanship was instilled in each and every one of us. We were taught to win with class and to lose with class. How we carried ourselves in victory and defeat was as important as how we had played. 

So, why the autobiography on baseball in my life?  I noticed when talking about several different players in my blog I'd make the comment "I like the way he plays the game." I got to thinking that I've never really explained what that means. To be honest, until I started writing this I'm not sure I could have put it into words. So, here's a shot to try to explain what I mean when I say "I like the way he plays the game." 

The first step in explaining my thoughts was to share a little about my life with baseball. To me, the way we played the game as kids is the right way to play baseball. To play because it's fun. To play with toughness. To play for the team. To play with integrity and with sportsmanship. These are the qualities that I seem to gravitate to with the players that I enjoy and collect. I like the way they play the game.

First and foremost, the player has to have fun. No player exemplified fun more than Adrian Beltre. If you've ever doubted that Beltre had fun playing the game, just watch the video.



Beltre enjoyed playing baseball. He always played to win, but he was going to have fun doing it. I love the 2014 Topps Beltre card. This is how I will remember him as a Ranger. In the dugout, after hitting a home run and someone getting ready to touch his head. Classic Beltre. 

When it comes to playing with toughness, I think of players like Cal Ripken Jr and Marcus Semien who show up everyday to play. Not taking a day off just to take a day off. I think of Nolan Ryan pitching with blood dripping from his mouth after being hit by a ball. Kirk Gibson's walk off home run in the '88 World Series and limping around the bases. Guys who would give anything to be on the field. Guys who don't quit. It doesn't matter the score, the wins or the losses, they are going to give it their all. 

     

George Brett said, "Nolan's scary under normal conditions, but facing him when he was all bloody was another level of intimidation altogether." Yeah, not something that I think I could do. Not something I could do if he wasn't bloody. There are so many cards of Cal Ripken Jr, to choose from that I went with The 1996 Topps card commemorating Ripken breaking the consecutive game streak. 

     

2023 Topps card represents a special season for the World Champion Marcus Semien. He played in 179 games in the '23 regular season and playoffs. Not including the COVID shortened season, Marcus has played in all but one regular season game over the last 4 years. Kirk Gibson's '88 walk-off home run is something that I will always remember. I was indifferent when it came to Gibson, but that was an awesome moment in baseball. The 2001 Topps card captures the golden moment. 

I am a firm believer that teams that play for each other are the teams that win. It was obvious this past season for the Rangers. Those guys truly enjoy playing ball together. When players put the team ahead of their own stats or concerns, those teams are hard to beat. There have been a number of players who put the team ahead of themselves, but for me, the best example of this is Michael Young. Young came up as a second baseman, moved to shortstop to make room for Alfonso Soriano. He goes out and becomes an All-Star shortstop and win a Gold Glove. Next, he moves to 3rd to make room for Elvis Andrus and then to DH/1B to make room for Adrian Beltre. The thing was, Michael Young was the face of the team, the leader in the clubhouse and he did what real leaders do, sacrifice for the team. I love those players who put their teammates first. 

     

Just a couple of my favorite Michael Young cards. '05 Topps and '11 Topps. 

Integrity and sportsmanship is a little harder to define. It would be easier to write about the players that don't have integrity and sportsmanship, like the steroids guys and the Astros. Integrity and sportsmanship gets overlooked today. I think there are probably more players that play the game with integrity and in the spirit of competition than those who don't. Most don't get the credit they deserve. The biggest name that comes to mind when I think of integrity and sportsmanship right now is Mike Trout. He's played on some really good teams and some really bad teams. He showed up and played. When Ohtani left the Angels, the topic of conversation was would Trout request a trade. His response was to honor his contract. That's integrity. Now, I'm sure that there might come a day when he does request a trade, but I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't. 

     

Trout has so many cool cards that I went with two of my favorites. The 2011 Topps Update rookie card is on my list of grail cards and the 2016 Topps is just a cool picture. 

There's really one more trait that I've thought of that I'm not sure how to quantify. I love players that play with passion. The most recent example that I can think of is Corey Seager's home run to tie game 1 of the '23 World Series. 


Seager is normally a player who keeps his emotions in check, but on this occasion he didn't. The thing I like about him is, to me, its genuine. He's not trying to show up the other team. He's just letting out his emotions. I think today, there's a lot of players that do all of these antics to say 'look at me" or to show up their opponent. I don't believe so here. 

I'm not sure that I've effectively defined what I mean by "how he plays the game" but I tried. I would love to hear some of your thoughts on players that you think really have fun playing, play with toughness, are team oriented or display integrity, sportsmanship and passion. 

Peace, 
Michael
Isaiah 40:31









4 comments:

  1. Great post. Beltre is one of my favorite players from the past decade or so. Him and Andrus cracked me up. In regards to playing hard, I grew up admiring Pete Rose. Watched a lot of This Week in Baseball and they painted a picture of him being one of the hardest working and toughest competitors in the game. It's kind of a shame he lacked integrity and lied about the betting thing. I've forgiven him for that and have started collecting his cards again... but I understand that's a scar that may never heal with other fans.

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    1. As I was finishing the post up, Pete Rose came to mind. I've moved past the gambling thing with Rose too. He was one I loved watching highlights of on This Week in Baseball. I miss that show.

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  2. First of all, amazing post! I love the way you portray "The way he plays the game." In terms of playing for fun, Bartolo Colon is the first that comes to mind. When he hit his first and only home run, the expression s of everybody were priceless, though I never actually saw it live. I agree on Nolan Ryan for playing with toughness. I also think Austin Riley because of his resilience. Ever since becoming a starter, he only comes out if sick or something. I agree with all that you said and like that you addressed this subject. There are so many players who don't play the game the way it was meant, whether they cheat or show other players up. And then there are those admirable players, which I love to see play so much.

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