Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My all-time favorite baseball starting lineup

-- by @Josh_Suchon

The blog "Baseball Trash Talkin" asked me to join them on their Podcast to talk about how I ended up in Albuquerque, Yasiel Puig, Dee Gordon and my book (duh). 

They posed a fascinating question at the end: who is your all-time favorite lineup at each position? It's not meant to be the best player at each position. It's personal. Your favorite player at each position. It's a great question. It made me think quite a bit, and I love lists, so here goes my dream lineup:

Catcher -- Benito Santiago

My relationship with Benny started when I was 15 years old and the batboy for a spring training game. Benito hit two home runs that day and I high-fived him at home plate after each one. Then I covered him as a newspaper writer. It was actually embarrassing the way he always called me "my favorite reporter" and once refused speaking to others, so I could have the scoop.

The greatest prank of my life involved a story that exaggerated just how close we were. That's a story that should be told over drinks, lots of drinks, but I shared it earlier

First base -- Lorenzo Bundy

He's my manager with the Isotopes. In three months, he's quickly rocketed up my list of all-time favorite baseball people. Great baseball mind. Greater dude. Puts up with me daily. Life of the party. He's a welcomer, not an excluder. Every manager could learn from him about how to treat people.

Second base -- Mark Ellis

If I ever have a daughter, I'd want her to marry a guy like Mark Ellis. The ultimate pro's pro. Fundamentally sound as they come. The classiest ballplayer I've ever met.

Shortstop -- Shawon Dunston

The gold standard. Still my all-time favorite athlete I ever covered. I've had conversations with him that I've never had with any other athlete, let alone other humans. I'll never forget the massive bear hug he gave me in the Cubs clubhouse one day. Other players looked at us like we were nuts. Dunston didn't miss a beat, telling his teammates, "it's not every day you see a player hug a reporter like that, huh?"

Plus, my all-time favorite photo is when his son jumped into his arms after a home run. The back story that Dunston once told me: hewasn't playing much at the time. His son asked why. It wasn't an easy conversation. Shawon's son wouldn't start him when he played video game baseball because he wasn't a starter anymore. Then after the home run, when Junior jumped into Senior's arms at home plate, he whispered, "you're still good Daddy." 

Third base -- Steve Lyons

The greatest wingman I've ever met -- bar none. Nobody comes close. He taught me to dress bolder, more confidently, wearing brighter colors to stand out. Whenever I asked if I could pull off a certain look, he'd always say, "it's all in your self confidence. If you believe it, you can pull off anything." I owe lots and lots of colorful unique socks in my wardrobe to him, plus some obnoxiously bright shirts. 

Not to mention, he went out of his way to make me feel welcome when I started working pre/post for the Dodgers. I've had more fun working with him on the air than any other ex-athlete. To top if off, I got his autograph as a kid. 

Left field -- Rickey Henderson

My favorite player as a kid. In 1982, my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I told them I wanted Rickey Henderson to break the single-season stolen base record on my birthday. Lo and behold, he did it.

Then I became a reporter, and when I told him that I was from The Oakland Tribune, he just gave me a knowing glance one day. Respect.

Center field -- Dexter Fowler

He played for the Modesto Nuts when I did play-by-play for them in 2007. I used to go shag balls during batting practice for fun. I'd stand out there in the outfield near Fowler and watched in awe at the jumps he got, the way he tracked down flyballs. Whenever I made a catch, he's flash a smile my way and put his hands together for me.

Right field -- Tony Gwynn

Signed a ton of autographs for me as a kid. Gave me the best interview ever as a clueless college newspaper reporter. Represented my college better than anybody ever -- as a basketball player, baseball player, proud alum, and now the head baseball coach.

These days, his son plays for the Isotopes and I get to say "T-Gwynn" every night on the radio. Life is pretty effin' amazing sometimes.

Designated hitter -- Dusty Baker

Dubbed me "Junior" my first day on the Giants beat in 2000. Gave me the best advice ever when I freaked out about turning 30 years old, advice that changed my outlook on life.

Accidentally ran into him outside a bar after the Giants won the 2002 NLCS, he insisted that I come inside with him and have a drink. When the crowd chanted his name, Dusty whispered into my ear, "yeah, now they love me" and giggled. He wasn't bitter. Again, he just understands human nature better than most. 

Starting pitcher -- Dave Stewart 

Always signed autographs for me as a kid. Dominated the American League for four years. Absolutely owned Roger Clemens' ass. When the earthquake struck in '89, Stew brought coffee and donuts to the scene of the worst destruction, and gave moral support to the workers looking for bodies still alive.

Always gave me interviews and treated me well, as a baseball executive and now agent. 

Relief pitcher -- Dennis Eckersley

Whenever a relief pitcher blows off the media after a blown save and I think it's ridiculous, I can always tell the story of how Dennis Eckersley answered every question -- even the same question, over and over, for 45 minutes -- after Kirk Gibson hit that home run off him. That set the gold standard for being accountable. For Eck, it was like group therapy. How he responded, getting even better and better after what could have been a crippling career-ending home run, can't be understated. Oh yeah, and he signed a ton of autographs for me a kid.

That's my list.

What's yours?