Regardless of the sport, one of the most important characteristics of any given player is their level of heart. The metaphorical term “heart” generally refers to a love for the game which one plays and a burning desire to succeed in that sport above everything else.
Players who are characterized as possessing “heart” are often those who will put their team before themselves, and sacrifice their statistics or even their own safety in order to better the position of their team. With this in mind, I will now examine the players in baseball whom I feel embody the characteristic of “heart” the most:
1) Derek Jeter, SS (New York Yankees)
Derek Jeter may have more heart than any other player in baseball. He consistently puts the success of his team above anything, and he is a proven leader on and off the field. Furthermore, he consistently shows a willingness to sacrifice his body if it means a win for the team.
Jeter best illustrated this in a game against the hated Red Sox in which Jeter dove head first into the stands in order to make a catch that was needed to win the game. Jeter suffered some bad injuries from the play, but Jeter had no regrets. This is what heart in sports is all about.
Finally, I should also note that Jeter is one of few players in professional sports today who you will never hear complain about contract problems or contemplate moving to a different team. Derek Jeter will always be a Yankee, and he is perfectly fine with that.
2) Kevin Youkilis, 1B (Boston Red Sox)
As a fan of the Yankees, I inheritably hate the Red Sox with a passion. However, I do respect Kevin Youkilis and the heart with which he plays the game. Kevin plays with a fire in his eyes every game of the season, and he expects perfection from himself at any given moment. If he feels he let his team down in an at bat, he will show it. Kevin brings this same intensity to the field as well, an intensity that has turned Kevin Youkilis into a gold glove first baseman for the Boston Red Sox.
3) David Wright, 3B (New York Mets)
David Wright is one of the bright young stars in Major League Baseball today. David Wright is a team first player who does everything he can to win. He’s a relatively modest player who always makes it clear in interviews that his role is to do what ever he can to help his team, and he often shields his team from media criticism when his team loses.
In addition, David is another player who puts winning before his own safety, often making reckless plays in order to seal a win for his team. All in all, David is one player who certainly has a lot of heart.
4) Aaron Rowand, CF (San Francisco Giants)
He may play for an irrelevant team, but you wouldn’t know it from the way Aaron plays. If a ball is falling towards the ground, Aaron will dive to catch it. If a ball is heading towards the wall, Aaron will run through it if need be. Simply stated, Aaron clearly shows, maybe more than any player in baseball, that his safety is second to his team’s success.
This notion was best illustrated in an infamous play in which Aaron ran into a wall so hard in an attempt to make a catch that he completely smashed his nose in the process. The result was bloody, but Aaron made the play. If that’s not heart, I don’t know what is.
5) Ken Griffey Jr., CF (Chicago White Sox)
If his career ended today, Ken Griffey Jr. would already be considered one of the greatest players of all time. In addition, he would already have more money in his pockets than just about anybody needs. However, Ken isn’t playing for the money. Ken Griffey Jr. is a player who clearly loves the game of baseball.
Playing since the age of 19, Griffey Jr. has had a career that most players can only dream of. However, in his later years, Ken has endured some horrific injuries that would have driven most players towards retirement.
Furthermore, Ken’s statistics haven’t been the same for a long time, and Ken may be risking his legacy to a degree by deteriorating his own statistics through playing while injured. However, Griffey Jr. doesn’t care about that. Ken plays because he loves the game and he loves to win. That seems like heart to me.