One of the great things about sports is the relationship between the players and the fans. Growing up as a kid in love with baseball, there were many players that I idolized, or wanted to be like, that shaped my love for the sport. As I turn 20 years old today, on June 16, it is a great time to take a look back at some of the players that shaped my love for the greatest sport in the world. So with that, here is my starting nine, plus my starting pitcher and reliever of players who shaped my love for baseball throughout my childhood.


Ichiro Suzuki, RF

Ichiro Suzuki: 1 To 51. 51 Fun Facts & Stats on One of… | by Mariners PR | From the Corner of Edgar & Dave

I didn’t get to see most of Ichiro’s prime, but my love for him started with Backyard Baseball 2007. I knew who Ichiro was before the first time I played the game, but as soon as I started a season and got to pick my players, Ichiro became the perfect leadoff hitter for my team. His ability to hit, mixed with his speed, was perfect for what I wanted. And in real life, Ichiro was one of one when it came to his ability. I don’t think we will ever see a player like Ichiro again when you consider his ability to just get hits at the plate, his speed, his defense, the entire package he brings to the table. He was special. But even with that, there was one more thing that made me appreciate Ichiro even more, and it was that I got to see him play live and in person.

When I was nine, I got the chance to see Ichiro play when I was gifted tickets to a Yankees game a family friend of mine won at some sort of raffle. They had no interest in baseball. So although I was never going to root for the Yankees, I was super excited to get to see Ichiro, since he had been traded to the Yankees a few weeks before. It was August 29, 2012, and the Yankees played the Blue Jays. Ichiro hit a double and the Yankees lost, so I went home happy. What makes that game even cooler for me, especially when I look back at it, is that I can say I got to see Ichiro, Andruw Jones, Russell Martin, and Eric Chavez, all players who I liked due to the Backyard Baseball or MLB 2K games. But getting to see Ichiro was the highlight of that day for me.


Dustin Pedroia, 2B

Red Sox legend Dustin Pedroia announces retirement

As a Red Sox fan, it was very easy to fall in love with Dustin Pedroia. As a kid who was always one of the shorter kids in my elementary school classes, Pedroia proved to me that height didn’t always matter, and that you can still be a great player regardless of your stature. A big reason I fell in love with Pedroia, besides his stature, was because of the way he played the game, with the energy and effort of the ultimate dirt dog. Plus, I was a second baseman in little league, meaning I had the perfect player to look up to in Pedroia.

Another big reason Pedroia was one of my favorites growing up was from his book, Born To Play: My Life In The Game. That book was my go to book late in elementary school and middle school. I also can’t forget about the number of times I got to see Dustin Pedroia play. I have seen him play in person at least five times, and probably closer to 7 or 8 times. Overall, he was one of my favorite Red Sox players growing up, and will always have a special place in my baseball fandom.


Albert Pujols, 1B

Appreciating Albert Pujols' Hall of Fame Career - Cooperstown Cred

Going back to the Backyard Baseball days, Albert Pujols was on the cover of Backyard Baseball 2007. Pujols was also one of the players that I always tried to trade for in MLB 2K games on my Wii. Pujols was one of, if not the best hitter in his generation, and in both the Backyard Baseball and MLB 2K games he was one of the best hitters you could have on your team. One of the best things was on MLB 2K12 where, for whatever random reason, Pujols was listed in the free agents. So the first thing I always did was sign him to a contract, because why not? 

Furthermore, I really liked Pujols because I liked his batting stance. I thought it was unique, and I would sometimes try to imitate it with one of those small toy wooden bats you get at the team store. So in my bedroom I would pretend to be Pujols, in his batting stance, with this little wooden PawSox bat I got at a Pawtucket Red Sox game. And boy did I hit a ton of imaginary homers with his batting stance. I also grew to like Pujols in the 2011 season, especially in the Cardinals’ run to the World Series, as all the spotlight was on him because he was set to become a free agent. With Pujols having that amazing final season last year, it reminded me and brought back some of the love I had for Pujols after some of those rougher years he had in Anaheim.


David Ortiz, DH

David Ortiz Not an Easy Choice for the Hall of Fame - The New York Times

I think this is an obvious pick for any Red Sox fan that grew up while David Ortiz was playing. The greatest DH of all time on the field is also one of the best people off the field. Big Papi was almost larger than life, and was a great role model for kids like myself to look up to. Ortiz was the face of Boston baseball for me when I was growing up, and all the clutch hits, big moments, and everything else, doesn’t stand up to his one line in 2013 of “This is our f*cking city, and nobody gonna dictate our freedom.” That wasn’t David Ortiz, the baseball player. That was David Ortiz, the person. And the person is a leader. And my grandmother always told me, and still does tell me, that he is a great person outside of baseball with everything he does off the field, and that has stuck with me.

Besides the person he was, that 2013 World Series further cemented his status as a Red Sox great. As a 10 year old during that postseason run, it was the first World Series I truly got to experience, as I was 1 when the Red Sox won in 2004 and I was 4 when they won in 2007. Plus, I got to go to Game 1 of the 2013 ALCS, which was a super cool experience although the Red Sox lost. Overall, Ortiz is a Boston legend, and if I left him off this I would be lying to myself on how much of an effect he had on my love of baseball.


Hanley Ramirez, 3B

Hanley Ramirez staying strong even as Marlins fade

A lot of Red Sox fans around my age may not have the most love for Hanley Ramirez, but he was one of my favorite players growing up, especially from his Marlins days. He was another guy who I had plenty of success with on Backyard Baseball and MLB 2K, but I had the most success with him on Backyard Baseball 2009. And since I knew he was originally a part of the Red Sox organization (thanks to Dustin Pedroia’s book) he became a guy that I hoped would come back to the Red Sox at some point. And although he did eventually return, my favorite version of Hanley will always be him at the beginning of his career with the Marlins.

Speaking of Hanley returning to Boston, I was super excited for it. I was an 11 year old who had Hanley Ramirez as one of my favorite non-Red Sox players, so it was hard for me to not be excited. Although he never fully lived up to the value of the contract he signed, he had some good moments in a Red Sox uniform. At the end of the day, he was a part of the 2018 Red Sox, although he was DFA’d pretty early in the season. To me, as much as the Sox benefitted from getting Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, I’ll always wonder how fun a middle infield of Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia could’ve been.


Shane Victorino, CF

Red Sox trade Shane Victorino to Angels, recall Rusney Castillo

When it comes to my personal favorite player ever, Shane Victorino is my guy. Victorino became my favorite non-Red Sox player in his time in Philadelphia as a center fielder, and once again it’s due to video games. In MLB 2K, Shane Victorino became the first guy I would always trade for, and he was always productive for me. He won me MVPs on MLB 2K, and he became my go-to guy. When he joined the Red Sox leading into 2013, he was an easy choice to become my new favorite Red Sox player. And as cool as it was to see him join the Red Sox, the connection he had with the city was special. Him using “Three Little Birds” as his walkup song was exactly what Boston needed, and his clutch performances in the postseason were legendary.

Also, the fact that I got to see him at Game 1 of the 2013 ALCS, and I got to sit in down the first base line in right field meant the player closest to me was Victorino, and that made that experience for me the best experience I have ever had at a sporting event. As of today, Victorino still stands as my favorite player ever. For Christmas in 2013, I actually got one of those big fathead posters of Victorino with the Red Sox, which even now as a 20 year old still is on the wall in my room. And I don’t plan on taking it down any time soon.


Grady Sizemore, LF

Indians Fans Have Grady Sizemore Nostalgia Thanks To Twitter Trend

Another one of my favorite non-Red Sox players, I was super excited for Grady Sizemore to join the Red Sox in 2014. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out the way I was hoping it would, but it was still cool to me to get to see him in a Red Sox uniform. My first memory of Sizemore is the first baseball game I ever went to, which was a game between the Red Sox and the then-Indians at Fenway Park on May 6, 2009. Sizemore hit leadoff that game for Cleveland, and although he didn’t have the best game, I remembered him because he was signing autographs before the game during batting practice. When I eventually got Backyard Baseball 2009, Grady Sizemore was one of the players in the game, so I always picked him for my team. 

Sizemore unfortunately had injury troubles and his career ended up getting derailed by those injuries, but when he was at his best, Sizemore was one of the better young players in all of baseball, and it’s kind of sad that we missed out on a player who could’ve been really good for a long time. But regardless, he was one of my favorite players, and when I recently revisited Backyard Baseball 2009, the first player I made sure to pick was Grady Sizemore.


Russell Martin, C

Russell Martin to start Sunday vs. Pirates

When it comes to catchers, my options were somewhat limited, but I had a choice between going with Joe Mauer or Russell Martin. Both catchers were in Backyard Baseball 2009, so I’ve used them both in that game. Although Mauer had better stats in the game, I always did better with Martin. Plus, I got to see Russell Martin play at that Blue Jays/Yankees game I went to back in 2012. Another reason why Martin was one of the few catchers I really looked up to was that even as a catcher, he isn’t a big guy, standing at just 5 ’10”. Similar to Dustin Pedroia, Martin was a guy who was still able to perform even though he didn’t have the biggest stature. 

Russell Martin was never the best catcher in baseball, yet he was very consistent. His only season with a WAR of under 1.2 was his final season at 36 years old. He was consistently a 2-3 WAR player for most of his career, with a couple of 4 and 5 WAR seasons mixed in. To have that type of consistency over a 14 year career at catcher isn’t something that is seen often. And to me, although I didn’t like that he played for the Yankees and the Blue Jays, he was always a player that I looked forward to seeing play.


Derek Jeter, SS

The Tragedy of Derek Jeter's Defense

As I am a Red Sox fan, this might be a very shocking pick to some. But if you asked me who was one Yankee that I respected the most, the answer would always be Derek Jeter. As much as I hated that he played for the Yankees, I knew he was a great player and that he was the heart and soul of the Yankees. Jeter, who was on Backyard Baseball 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2009, was a player on Backyard Baseball 2009 that I would pick to my team, only to trade him to some random team like the Rockies so he wouldn’t be on the Yankees. But occasionally I would use him, and he was pretty good. But I didn’t want to use him too much since he was a Yankee.

For Jeter in real life, the one time I got to see him play was that Yankees game I went to that I’ve previously mentioned. And getting to see him play was great, because at that point everyone knew he was on a path to the Hall of Fame. As someone who wanted to play shortstop but normally played second base, I was the one kid that would practice jump throws and stuff like that. And the fact that a Yankee made enough of an influence on me to practice jump throws before every shortstop in baseball tried to do them shows how much influence Jeter had on me. And I’m not afraid to admit that. Plus, although our names are spelled differently, I found it cool when I was a kid that a good MLB player had the same name as me.


Anibal Sanchez, SP

Tigers name Anibal Sanchez ALCS Game 1 starter -

It is funny how I have the two big pieces the Red Sox traded to the Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell placed as two of the players who shaped my love for the game of baseball, but here we are. Anibal Sanchez is one of the most underrated pitchers of his generation, mostly due to him either being on bad Marlins teams or him not being at the forefront of two of the most talented rotations we saw in the 2010s. However, I think the thing that really set in my mind just how good Anibal Sanchez was is me being at Game 1 of the 2013 ALCS, where Anibal Sanchez threw six no-hit innings, and the Tigers carried a combined no-hitter into the ninth inning until Daniel Nava broke it up. That performance, although it sucked for the Red Sox, made me a fan of Anibal’s.

Then, I eventually found out that he was a part of the Beckett and Lowell trade. That shocked me, as I always knew Hanley Ramirez was involved, but never realized Sanchez was. Everyone remembers those Tigers rotations, and although Sanchez didn’t win a Cy Young like his Tigers teammates Verlander, Scherzer, Price, Porcello, and Ray, Sanchez did win an ERA title in 2013, netting him a fourth place Cy Young finish. Then, after a couple of down years, Sanchez returned to form with the Nationals, as he was the unsung hero of that 2019 Nats rotation that featured Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin. Then, in Game 1 of the NLCS, he had another no-hit bid. He took this one into the eighth inning, where he finally gave up a hit with two outs before being taken out. But to start two Game 1 one-hitters, with one in the ALCS and the other in the NLCS, is something that I don’t think anyone else has done or will do anytime soon.


Koji Uehara, RP

All-Time Boston Red Sox Roster: Koji Uehara - Over the Monster

When it comes to the 2013 World Series team for the Red Sox, the greatest part of that team might have been the run Koji Uehara went on once he grabbed the closer spot. From June 26 onwards, Koji appeared in 41 games, pitching 44.1 innings and only giving up 2 earned runs. That put his ERA at 0.41 from June 26 to the end of the regular season. Then in the postseason, Koji only gave up one run (in the ALDS) and he won the ALCS MVP. In that dominant stretch for Koji, he went on a streak of 31 straight scoreless appearances. He gave up one unearned run in the fourth appearance of that stretch, so he had a 27 appearance streak of giving up zero runs, earned or unearned.

As crazy good as Koji was, he brought some amazing vibes to that 2013 team. It felt like he always pitched with a ton of joy and excitement, and it was fun to watch. And because of that 2013 team, Koji is a legend in Boston. The Red Sox might not have won it all in 2013 if not for Koji becoming the best pitcher in baseball from June 26 onwards. Koji got some down ballot Cy Young and MVP votes in 2013 because of his performance. He was that good. And his use of the splitter is what made me really fall in love with the pitch, and it is now my favorite pitch altogether.

As I have reached the 20-year mark of my life, I have seen a ton of great players play, whether for the Red Sox or for other teams. But these eleven players really did make an impact on my love of the game. And that connection I have with these players, through my love of baseball, and getting to watch these players play, is something that has stuck with me throughout the now 20 years of my life and will continue to stick with me for however many years left I have on this planet.

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