I was born the year the A’s beat the Giants in the World Series. It figures that I’d be born into a place that was teeming with baseball fever. That, combined with a little sprinkle of Mother Nature must have shaken my baby brain into realizing that baseball is the greatest sport on the planet.
Because since the day I was born, I’ve been the biggest fan of America’s pastime you’ll ever meet. From dreaming, to playing, to watching, to writing, baseball has always been on my mind.
I remember the various successes and failings of my A’s and Dodgers throughout the years. I can visualize with complete clarity Edgar Renteria’s walk-off single in 1997. I remember watching that play and being shocked into happiness by the child-like elation displayed by grown men. I can watch Kirk Gibson circling the bases or Joe Carter jumping up and down millions of times and still get shivers.
The Red Sox 2004 comeback. The Yankee three-peat. Scott “my hero” Spiezio. The White Sox awful rendition of Don’t Stop Believin’ in 2005. Tony Womack. Bud Selig’s iron fist. Barry Bonds’ “record.” Syringes and pills. Suspensions. Roger Clemens and Manny Ramirez breaking my heart. The league’s fall from grace.
Yes, in my lifetime Major League Baseball has had its ups and downs. But in an era defined by artificial enhancement that bloated half the players’ muscles up to superhero sizes, and home runs that flew out of the stadium at a record pace and record distances, and 84 straight saves by a below-average closer, and hundreds of surprises on a terrifying list, I hung on by a thread. A chain, if you will, of the good guys.
This is my list of the 15 Best Role Models in Baseball since 1995. Why 1995? Well, not to ruin the surprise, but a couple contenders happened to show up that year…here they are. The 15 players who helped growing baseball fans like me believe in something more than steroids and corked bats and stolen signals: