“How can you not be Romantic About Baseball?”– Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Ah yes, Valentines Day. Love is in the air, flowers are being distributed, and bad movies are being paraded everywhere. Most importantly, though, pitchers and catchers have reported to camp, ready to begin the epic journey towards baseball’s ultimate prize, the World Series.
Baseball fandom is a tribal practice. Territories have been drawn, and more often than not, the place of your birth can dictate your feelings towards the men who wear your favorite laundry when they take the field. The transient nature of the modern game, though, has put fans in a familiar awkward position time and time again. You show up to the game, ready to reign boos down upon the visitors with great vitriol, when you see him.
You know . . . that guy. The one who you’re supposed to hate. All your friends talk about how he’s the worst and they just don’t understand how anyone can like him. You smile, nod, and vacantly respond “Yeah, I hear ya . . .” or “I know, right?!”
But you know the truth.
It’s okay though, you’re not the only one. I hit up a couple of friends to talk about these forbidden loves in a special Valentines Day article for a website called . . . Romantic About Baseball. The rules were simple: Who’s a player you love, on a team that you hate. Could be active, could not be. Just one that sticks with ya.
Cheese factor: off the charts. I get it.
Adam MacKinnon: Jimmy Rollins
I’m a sucker for a dude with a sense of humor. I’ve been a Braves fan all my life, but having spent most of my formidable years just outside of Philadelphia in the mid-2000s, I spent a lot of time getting to know some of the Phillies from their finest years. Tensions were high in Philly: the Eagles were on a streak of leading the city just close enough to a title to be let down at the last minute, and the Phillies were beginning to find their footing. They had a strong core of players like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels leading the way, but none were as cool as their Short Stop, Jimmy Rollins.
It was infuriating. The ball just seemed to go from his bat to the outfield grass, like it was programmed that way or something. In 2007, the man hit TWENTY triples and THIRTY home runs, all while playing gold glove short stop and taking home the MVP award. It didn’t seem to matter what anyone else tried to do. Shift? please. Breaking pitches? Gotcha! Try to put a fastball by him? Thank you very much . . . and of course, he would stand on third base with that toothy grin of his, and shrug his shoulders like “eh, ya know, just another day at the office.”
I. Hated. It.
But I couldn’t help but smile.
He was short, only 5’7″, but hit for power, had a slick glove, and didn’t seem to take it all too seriously. He would laugh, joke, dance, and smile his way through the highest pressure situations with a certain coolness that seemed to be lacking in other players. He wasn’t goofy, he wasn’t serious, he was just . . . cool. I can’t say I’ll ever be a Phillies fan, but I’ll always have a soft spot for J-Roll.
Chelsea Ladd: Ian Happ
What happens when you like a baseball player who just so happens to play on your favorite team’s rival? Do you secretly cheer for him behind closed doors? Or do you disregard your distaste for his team and support him completely? These are a few questions I’ve asked myself when it comes to Ian Happ.
You see, I am a fan and writer of the St. Louis Cardinals and Happ, well he is a member of the Chicago Cubs organization. To say my adoration and appreciation for him is complicated is an understatement. It’s kept at bay, holding my breath when he steps up to plate against any Cardinals pitcher — wishing for him to get a hit, wishing for Adam Wainwright to also strike him out.
Rival teams, rival cities and two fan bases that seem to be a modern day version of the Capulets and Montagues on and off of the field and on social media.
Truthfully, the 25-year-old outfielder caught my attention during the 2019 season after word spread about the Happ Family Fund and his website, Through My Eyes, which features three original artworks drawn by artist Patrick Vale. By inviting Vale to Wrigley, the two came up with something quite beautiful to spread the age-defying grace of Wrigley Field.
The artwork in the three piece series are titled: “From the Dugout,” “3–2, 2 Outs,” and “Coming Home.” The photos were made for the fans with a portion of proceeds from each purchase going to Happ’s own charitable fund which benefits mental health and wellness initiatives in Chicago and across the country.
Happ lost his father in 2015 to brain cancer, leaving him to grieve and look for a way to help others who have experienced the same thing. He and his family, who have always wanted to give back, wanted their charity to be about the way he lived and not centered around brain cancer.
While Ian Happ might be a member of the Chicago Cubs, I can proudly admit that I’m a fan of his work on and off the field. He is an exceptional person that uses his platform to help others, which is important to a fan and writer like myself. I can only hope that the world of baseball is graced with his talent, his kindness, and his passion for baseball and life for years to come. You can find more information on Through My Eyes on his website: Wrigley Through My Eyes
Chelsea is the creator and head writer at Dugout Dish
Casey Boguslaw: Torii Hunter
With (hopefully) the most competitive season in White Sox baseball in many years beginning soon, and with the toughest competition standing in their way being the Minnesota Twins, it’s nearly impossible to write something nice about any of their players. But with it being Valentine’s Day, and fulfilling the purpose of this piece laid in front of me, I am going to do the impossible. I’m going to say something nice about Torii Hunter.
Way back when in the early aughts, believe it or not: the White Sox were an annual contender to possibly make the playoffs. Between division titles in 2000 and 2005, Chicago finished second in the AL Central to those oh-so-pesky Twins in three out of four years. In the literal center of it all stood Torii Hunter.
From 2001 to 2004, Hunter averaged 3.6 fWAR. And while he was an adequate hitter, much of his value came from his incredible defensive prowess. In 2001 alone, he accumulated 22.2 defensive runs, good for fifth in all of baseball that season.
While I’m sure he didn’t earn all 22 of those defensive runs against the White Sox, it sure felt like it. Any ball hit in the vicinity of center field he tracked down and corralled, stealing multiple extra-base hits from the likes of Magglio Ordóñez and Carlos Lee. Specifically in the spacious grounds of the Metrodome, Hunter’s defense was the White Sox #1 villain.
I am supposed to say something nice, so here goes. I’ve become quite the fan of outfield defense in recent years so I do look back at Hunter in much more awe than I did when he was stealing runs from my team. He was the type of player I dreamed of having on my team, and most of my distaste for him only came out of jealousy.
My best memory of Hunter, naturally, didn’t come against the White Sox, but happened in the 2002 All-Star Game (yep, the one that ended in a tie). Hunter made one of the best plays in ASG history, robbing demigod Barry Bonds of a homer by leaping over the fence. I also got very excited when Bonds charged out to ‘tackle’ Hunter, mostly because I was somewhat hoping it would end in injury for the Twins center fielder.
I could only stay nice for so long. Happy Valentine’s Day, Torii!
Casey is an MLB writer and Analyst