Baseball Players You Just Love to Watch

Nino CollaSenior Writer ISeptember 16, 2008

Sitting here with nothing else to do, watching a crucial game for the Minnesota Twins as they try and keep pace with the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central race, I come to appreciate the major league ball player.

Think about it if you will for a second. The date is September 16th and by now every major league player who's played the full season has to be feeling the grind of a 162 game season.

Still, that doesn’t prevent most of them from playing the game they love even harder in hopes of helping their team advance to the post-season to keep on doing what gives them those aches and pains in the morning.

Certainly though, victory lessens those aches and pains because anyone will tell you that they'll take the strain of a long and strenuous season if they can celebrate at the end with a World Series trophy and the taste of champagne.

I have the utmost respect for players who are still giving it their all at this point in the season and still playing at 100% even if their team is out of the race. I also have ultimate love for players who play the game hard, aren't that flashy, but could play on any team in any day and age.

I love the way Nick Punto dives after every ball, even if he doesn't have a shot. Or the way he does his best to throw a ball while he's falling away from the base. He may not make the out, but he'll do his best to try.

Punto probably won't win you a game with his bat, but he could save you runs with his glove and his effort. What's even better is he can make that spectacular play at any position on the infield.

One guy who was cut from the same cloth in terms of effort is Grady Sizemore. Of course what makes Sizemore special is the raw power and speed he possesses.  But you won't find a more professional player than Grady.

He gives it his all every night out and absolutely hates his manager, Eric Wedge, if he sits him on a given day. One of Wedge's greatest fears is telling Sizemore he isn't in the starting lineup.

One of Wedge's favorite ways to measure how much he loves a player is to determine how much "grit" they have. It's the reason he loves Casey Blake and his makeup as a ball player.

One favorite player of mine who earns high marks on the "grit" meter is Chicago White Sox's clubhouse clown, Nick Swisher.

"Dirty Thirty" as he calls himself doesn't lie about that nickname. It seems as if his uniform is always dirty in some way. Swisher is constantly diving for balls in the outfield or trying to save doubles down the first base line.

Last Sunday I saw Swisher make a crazy dive at the first base line and came up with the catch. It just makes me appreciate him even more to watch him play the game in that manner on a nightly basis. If there was one guy I would want to take with me on a post-season roster it would be Swisher, his number thirty and all the dirtiness that comes with it.

A player that gives an effort similar to Swisher is former Oakland Athletics teammate Eric Byrnes.

Byrnes is often referred to as the "crash test dummy" of the Major Leagues. While you measure Swisher's toughness and effort in stains on his jersey, you measure Byrnes in how many concussions he sustains in a year and how many times he leaves a cash in the outfield wall.

I only wish Byrnes was still playing in 2008.  He'd give a big boost to the Diamondbacks in the effort department.

Someone giving a big boost to his club is second baseman Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox. Pedroia is a fan's player; a guy any normal fan of the game would throw down money to see.

Not only does he get the uniform dirty, he looks like he's swinging out of his shoes when he connects on one of his 200 plus hits.

As I delve into the players I love to watch hit, how about Ryan Doumit, the catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates? Doumit has established himself as one of the top hitting catchers in the majors this year.

From the left or the right side of the plate, watching Ryan Doumit swing the bat is pure enjoyment.

How about the other aspect to the game of baseball and the players Doumit catches, the pitchers?

I like three things out of my pitcher when I'm watching them. I love to see focus, determination and energy.

Watching a curveball being placed perfectly on the outside corner is always textbook. But, when I watch a pitcher I want to see someone out there going for the kill.

Someone who has his sights on the target, is locked into it, and when he hits it, shows pure emotion.

Two Indians pitchers that show focus with the best of them is Fausto Carmona and Cliff Lee. Watching Carmona shake off the bugs in last year's ALDS was special.

If you want energy, then look no further than closers like Francisco Rodriguez and Jose Valverde. I like to make fun of Rodriguez for his constant "talking to the sky" after he ends a game, but that type of excitement is great to watch.

While excitement and energy are great, I also enjoy seeing professionals close out ball games. Look no further than Joe Nathan, who comes in, does his job, and quietly leaves.

As the post-season approaches and you think about some of the current players that live in October lore, the name that comes to mind is Mariano Rivera. In my opinion, Nathan is like a less-celebrated Rivera.

Guys like Rivera and John Smoltz have places in history as some great post-season players. This year, we'll be seeing some fresh faces, mainly the entire Tampa Bay Rays team, which means more opportunities for more players to put themselves in company with players like Smoltz and Rivera.

I can only hope, they play as hard as Nick Punto and as gritty as Nick Swisher.