Today is my birthday, marking my 26th year on this planet. I thought of a few different ways to use my weekly column on this site to talk about my love of baseball (like Derrik did a few weeks ago)…and then it dawned on me…what a perfect birthday for baseball!

26th birthday, 26-man roster.

I’ve decided to come up with my personal all-time 26-man roster. This is not the best players I’ve seen or rooted for, it’s personal favorites – “my guys.” I’ve limited it to players I’ve actually seen in my lifetime, during these 26 years, and have constructed my roster just as if it was a real team that had to play every day (limited to 13 pitchers, 2 catchers, etc.) Favorites get starting spots. 

You will, of course, see many Red Sox on this list. But you’ll also see many players who helped shape my love of the game. 

C – Jason Varitek

He’s the captain! He punched A-Rod in the face! He played forever, won a couple rings, caught four no-hitters – he did it all. His knees suffered. 

1B – Prince Fielder

I loved Prince because he swung at e-ver-y-thing. That guy never saw a pitch he didn’t like and want to smack the hell out of. It didn’t matter if it was in the dirt – he’d golf swing it. It’s a terrible way to play, but he pulled it off. 

2B – Dustin Pedroia 

Any kid loved watching Pedey play because he was a maniac (it’s why his career was cut short), but Tom Verducci’s 2011 Sports Illustrated profile changed my life. My grandmother got me SI every year for my birthday. Each issue would arrive in my small mailbox, folded over once or twice, every Friday. If there was something Red Sox-related within its pages, I devoured it. This profile was a gift from God. It taught me about how dirt dogs work, on and off the field. I will forever hold professional baseball players to Pedroia’s hard-working standard. 

3B – Rafael Devers

Guys like this only come around every once in a while, and I get to root for him for a long long time. Plus, he just loves playing. It’s hard not to love him when he loves the game so much – “They pay me good, I play baseball, and I hit homers.” 

SS – Jose Reyes

I have to be honest, I’ve never really had “my shortstop.” I loved Xander Bogaerts and am very appreciative of his Red Sox years, but I never had a personal connection to him. I didn’t have that connection with Jose either, but he was just so damn fun to watch. 

LF – Bryce Harper

Harper was the first overall selection in the 2010 draft, which was the year I started watching baseball every single day. I followed his minor league career on early Twitter and crappy flash sites, waiting feverishly for his debut. It didn’t take long, and it didn’t take long for me to beg someone (thanks, Aunt Pam!) to drive me to D.C. to watch him play. He’s an asshat (“That’s a clown question, bro”), but I’ve always loved him. He’s mainly been a right-fielder in his career, but he started in left the first time I saw him in-person. So I’m mildly cheating and putting him here. 

CF – Jacoby Ellsbury

Why didn’t Ellsbury win the 2011 AL MVP? I will never get over this. 

RF – Mookie Betts

No one who watched Mookie play in 2018 (or 2023, if we’re honest) didn’t love the guy – I don’t care who you were. I’m just lucky he played for my team. 

DH – David Ortiz

I mean, come on. 

BENCH – Adley Rutschman (C)

I live in Baltimore now and there’s no doubt that Adley is everybody’s “My Guy” around here, but Adley is the exact kind of baseball player that I love. I saw him play in the minors, I bought tickets I couldn’t afford to his debut game, and I felt Camden Yards shake when he hit that triple. I will follow his career, wherever he plays, until the wheels fall off. 

BENCH – José Bautista (INF/OF)

Division rival, yes. But that guy hit bombs that still haven’t landed. That 2015 ALDS Game 5 homer is the stuff of legends. 

BENCH – Aaron Hill (INF)

Another Blue Jay, interestingly enough. I never felt like Aaron Hill got his due. He hit two cycles in one season! A classic five-tool player. I wanted him to play in Boston so badly, it’s unfortunate he was so far past his prime by the time he limped around the field in Fenway during the 2016 season. 

BENCH – Carlos Quentin (OF)

Don’t ask me why. I don’t know why. I just thought he was awesome. 

SP – Max Scherzer

Mad Max! The guy you love(d) to hate. He’s an absolute psychopath – could you imagine standing in the batter’s box and staring back at this guy? How does anyone wear home whites and do that? 

SP – Roy Halladay

I think he was, very quietly and calmly, the best pitcher I’ve ever seen.  

SP – Chris Sale

It’s a shame he’s become a joke because his 2017 and 2018 were disgusting. The image of him coming out of the bullpen for the final outs of the 2018 World Series will forever be a part of my baseball DNA. Plus, I needed a lefty in here. 

SP – R.A. Dickey 

Who doesn’t love a knuckleball? His 2012 Cy Young was such a great comeback story. Paired with his 2012 autobiography Wherever I Wind Up, he was the first baseball player that made me think about who these guys are as people

SP – Stephen Strasburg

Same story as Harper, basically. They showed his minor league games on freakin’ ESPN! It was impossible to not be excited for him. He didn’t have the career anyone wanted, but how can you complain about a World Series MVP? 

RP – Joe Kelly

I am The Boy Who Loved Joe Kelly, after all. 

RP – Alfredo Aceves

I have no idea why I loved Alfredo so much, but I just did. Remember the good old days when pitchers did it all? 

RP – Tim Wakefield

If R.A. Dickey is in the rotation, Wake goes here. I really love a knuckleball. 

RP – Heath Bell

Weirdo, great personality – just what you want from a closer. 

RP – Brian Wilson

Weirdo, great personality – just what you want from a closer. 

RP – Craig Kimbrel

My list finishes with my favorite Red Sox closers, in ascending order. 

RP – Koji Uehara

You could argue that Koji single-handedly won the 2013 World Series. 

CP – Jonathan Papelbon

Pitchers, but especially closers, need to be at least a little bit crazy. Pap was a lotta bit crazy (which was his ultimate downfall), but that’s what made him must-watch tv.

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