When my family moved north, I instantly became a Milwaukee Braves fan, and another Hank -- Aaron -- slugged his way into my heart. When he stood at home plate, I could feel the excitement and tension of his power. Next on my hero list was Eddie Mathews, a great player with -- and this was important to me -- movie star looks.
Much later, I adored Paul Molitor and Robin Yount. Not only could Paul get on base with his quick bat, but he was also a major heartthrob with his nice smile and blue eyes. Robin's acrobatic body seemed to be made of rubber as he leaped for fly balls, swiveled and spun to turn double plays or scrambled to stretch a single into a double.
In the early '90s, third baseman Kevin Seitzer was my guy. Exciting to watch in the field and at the plate, he was nice looking too. Late in the season, I was in the dumps when he was traded to a contending team (Cleveland). (Doesn't it feel great to be on the other end of that situation?)
I noticed catcher Mike Matheny soon after he came up from the Minors. He was one of the first catchers to use the hockey-style mask, and when he took it off, he looked really good. I mean really good. I'll never forget the night he was struck by a very inside pitch. I swear I heard the sound of the ball smacking his cheek. He went down briefly, stood up, waved off the coach and took his base. The crowd went crazy applauding for his toughness.
We all enjoyed watching first baseman Richie Sexson's soaring, astonishingly deep home runs at our new Miller Park. At 6-foot-8, I wanted to make the point that his long arms and legs gave him an advantage over all other first basemen.
I imagined I was on the verge of crating a new statistic: the distance between the tip of a player's toe to the end of his mitt. I called the Brewers' trainer and asked him to take Richie's measurement. I never did hear back from him.
Watching Scott Podsednik flourish as a base thief was a special treat for me. He'd hunch forward with his forearms parallel, his focus on a pitcher's every twitch. Blink, and he'd be on second. Before they were traded, Fernando Vina and Lyle Overbay each ranked at the top of my list of favorites.
Too Many Choices
Prince Fielder will always be king of my list, but the Brewers are so good this year that after him, it's a toss up. One week, it's J.J. Hardy or Bill Hall with their graceful fielding and amazing arm speed. Then it's Corey Hart who easily covers the outfield, steals bases and slugs the heck out of the ball. Since I have already confessed my adoration for Gabe Kapler, I'll skip to Ryan Braun who shows a maturity and an ability that belies his age and experience. CC Sabathia's power and control are almost frightening. Ben Sheets' efficiency is a joy. Then there's steady Mike Cameron and flashy Rickie Weeks. And I haven't even gotten to the bench.
Obviously, I've been overlooking the obvious. Jason Kendall is the catcher we've been waiting for -- a man who calmly guides the pitchers, gets on base and actually throws out base stealers. As of today, he's officially my man.