Brian Wilson and the Bay Area's Top 10 Fan-Favorite Athletes
Over the past five years or so, the Bay Area has accumulated some pretty entertaining athletes, both on the field/court and off. These players have given the fans plenty of reasons to cheer, though not necessarily because of their in-game achievements.
No one has personified this concept of "fan favorite" more than San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson.
In the last two seasons, Wilson has become one of the most feared pitchers in all of baseball, and not only because of his 97 mph fastball (although I'm sure that doesn't hurt his case). At the same time, his focus, determination and flare for eccentricity have turned Wilson into one of the most beloved players in sports.
His sea-worthy beard, dyed jet black, is nothing short of a national treasure. As his recent appearance on George Lopez showed, Wilson is very capable of staying relevant and fresh, even when baseball is the last thing on the minds of sports fans.
With Mr. Wilson in mind, let's take a look at the other nine Bay Area athletes who keep fans interested any time of the year.
10. Dallas Braden
To be honest, Braden would not even be on this list had he not thrown a perfect game on Mother's Day with his grandmother in attendance.
Not to take anything away from Braden, but his statistics (11-14, 3.50 ERA, 1.16 WHIP), though improving, are not outstanding.
The one thing that Braden does have is fiery passion for the game of baseball, as shown by his now infamous "A-Rod and the pitching mound" episode. He certainly is an entertaining player and fans should look forward to many more debauchery-laden events from the Stockton southpaw.
9. Nnamdi Asomugha
Asomugha has been the heart of the Raiders defense since he came into the league in 2003.
Since his breakout season in 2006, in which he recorded eight interceptions, he has been one of the most feared corners in the league this side of Darrelle Revis.
Asomugha's presence is now enough to keep primary receivers at bay, a large reason why the Raiders are on the rise in the AFC West. Truly a force to be reckoned with, Nnamdi has given Raider Nation a renewed sense of hope that few can match.
8. Monta Ellis
At this point in his career, Monta should be a perennial All-Star. Averaging almost 26 points per game with six assists, Ellis is a crucial component in the Warriors' system. With the ability to break through any defense or go for 40-plus on any given night, his talents are truly special.
Still, Monta has been putting up numbers for a while now and the Warriors don't seem to be winning.
Fans have noticed.
Calls to trade Ellis for a big man or more team players have been frequent and his power as a "fan-favorite" is probably a little weaker than expected. However, Monta makes any Warriors game exciting, which is why he comes in at No. 8.
7. Stephen Curry
Curry's fan appeal became clear from the instant he put on a Warriors uniform.
His sweet shooting stroke, immediate impact and youthful demeanor have made Steph the new favorite at Oracle Arena. As more of a pure point guard, Curry is the catalyst for the offense, including Monta.
His averages of 19 points, 3.5 boards and six assists are not unbelievable, but they don't convey how vital Curry is to his team. Amidst trade rumors involving both he and Ellis, the majority of fans have been adamant about keeping Steph rather than Monta should it come to that.
I don't think there is a more distinct reason to put Curry ahead of Ellis at No. 7.
6. Patrick Willis
Willis comes in at No. 6 because of his incredible play since he entered the league in 2007.
With over 100 solo tackles in each season, Willis has established himself as one of the premier linebackers in football and the 49ers faithful have noticed.
The only thing holding Willis back as a powerful "fan favorite" is his cool demeanor on and off the field. His visor, though extremely intimidating, does not allow fans to see a lot of emotion. However, Willis' career will undoubtedly speak for itself and if the Niners finally do improve, he will be right in the spotlight.
5. Frank Gore
Though not necessarily more successful than Willis, Gore is much more visible as an integral part of the 49ers offense, which is why he comes in at No. 5.
If not for a season-ending hip injury, Gore would have surely eclipsed the 1,000-yard rush mark for a fourth straight season.
His big play ability is comparable to Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson, and the offense would be a whole lot worse without the threat of Gore in the backfield.
Plus, at 5'9", 217 pounds, don't you just want to give him a hug?
4. Pablo Sandoval
The nickname really does say it all as Sandoval quickly became the heart of the Giants offense after an incredible 2009 season (.330, 25, 90). Panda hats were the quintessential purchase for the San Francisco fan to begin 2010.
Pablo's "fan-favorite" status really showed this past season as fans stuck by him (for the most part) despite his low production.
For many Giants fans, the Panda is the key to the Giants' 2011 chances. If he regains his form, he will karate chop his way to the top of this list.
3. Buster Posey
The Stephen Curry of the Giants but with better results, Posey was essentially a "fan favorite" before he even put on a Giants uniform.
A product of the team's farm system, fans urged GM Brian Sabean to bring the catcher up to the big leagues to start the 2010 season.
Instead, Posey came in July. He seamlessly stepped in to take the place of another popular player, Bengie Molina, and lead one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. He consistently drew out six or seven innings from a wild Jonathan Sanchez and brought out the best in the bullpen.
His hitting approach is unreal (.305, 18 home runs, 67 RBI and only 55 strikeouts) and fans are eagerly awaiting a full year of "The Kid" behind the dish. His stock is sure to go nowhere but up.
2. Tim Lincecum
With three All-Star selections, back-to-back Cy Young awards and a World Series title, it's easy to see why Lincecum would be a favorite for his performance on the field; Timmy has averaged 16 wins, a 3.04 ERA and 252 strikeouts over his career.
However, it is not the statistics but Lincecum's laid back and competitive demeanor, as well as small stature, that separate him from others on this list.
At 5'11", 170 pounds (yeah right), Timmy is one of the smallest and most powerful pitchers in baseball. His long hair and hipster style are incredibly endearing to fans, as well as his French bulldog, aptly named Cy.
Even the minor legal trouble he's been in involving marijuana has brought him closer to San Francisco fans and Prop 19 advocates.
It's very hard to leave Lincecum out of the No. 1 spot, and I do so with great conflict. Only one man (and his beard) could top him and that is of course...
1. Brian Wilson
I do mean Brian Wilson of course, the enigmatic closer for the Giants, and not his new alter ego. It's hard not to put so many Giants at the top of this list but, hey, they are the world champions and none are more deserving than Wilson.
Wilson's emphatic embrace of his own quirky personality is only exceeded by the embrace of the San Francisco fans, who until recently had toiled in wait of a dominant closer since the days of Robb Nen.
Wilson approaches the role of closer as any fan would want him to: with power, focus and just enough ego to believe he won't be beat.
For most of the 2010 season, the Giants went by a credo of "torture" and no one perpetuated the theme more than Wilson. It seemed that every game he came in to close would end with bases loaded, two outs and a full count. Yet, somehow, he would come out with the save and a Giants victory and for that difficult balance of success and entertainment, Wilson became and remains wildly popular.
Wilson's huge popularity locally and nationally as a baseball player and human being land him the No. 1 spot.
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