Recently we discussed the many ways in which Joey Votto is in fact perfect. I adopted him when he was an anxious rookie, then he earned his way into my tee shirt drawer by being awesome. I am a girl who’s hard to get except when I’m flinging myself at people (fictional characters, animated beings, total strangers with amusing sweatshirts… it’s all happened), but I doubt I would have adopted Votto had he awesomed his way there later in his career. He and I had to have an emotional attachment first, by which I mean I sat fifty yards away from him at the ballpark thinking “I hope he doesn’t screw this up.”

This was a decided intellectual step up from my first favorite Red, Johnny Bench, then in the waning years of his career. The first time I attended a Reds game, I was five years old, and assumed matching age to number dictated when to applaud. This became increasingly frustrating as I got older and still dragged an aging Johnny with me in my heart, because by then I was reading Beverly Cleary books between innings and occasionally asking my father to accompany me from the green seats to the mean streets of the Riverfront concourse, which was often the signal for the Reds to do something exciting. Then there was Todd Benzinger because he was cute. Then Sean Casey because he is Sean Casey.

This phenomenon, I have found, is more pronounced in introverts, and I am the most introverty of them all.  Once I went to a restaurant to write, but it was a busy morning, and the waitress said, “Would you like a place on the bench at our Community Table?” and I went away instead. I had just been to Confession and didn’t want to haul right back in there to wipe off a homicide. It’s difficult for us introverts to relate to other human beings in real time, so we do so with our serotonin instead.

The great effort applied to paying attention to other people is particularly pronounced where athletics is concerned and our identity is wrapped into the matter: There must be an emotional component. Our Velcro loops manage to smash in just right with our perception of a player’s Velcro hooks, and before we know it we have more Jay Bruce bobbleheads than friends.

How does this phenomenon kick in when teams aren’t a factor? Having lived in Daytona Beach, I used to ask NASCAR fans how they came to back their favorite drivers, and the answer was often something along the lines of, “Well, I like Tony because he BLLLAUUURRRRGGGHHH,” because this person was in Daytona Beach, and what people mostly do in Daytona Beach is vomit in inconvenient places.

So your favorite player probably says a lot more about you than it does about him. Otherwise, how would anyone know how old you were?

11 Responses

  1. cfd3000

    Being a baseball fan includes so many ways to appreciate the game, the players, the setting, the drama, the subtleties, the elation and even the disappointment. But that favorite player thing is big when your favorite team is good at this losing business. Thank goodness for Joey Votto when the Reds are struggling. He sat out last night’s game and I almost didn’t watch. Now I wish I hadn’t. Go Reds – and Joey, Tucker, Scott (get well soon) and… I need some young pitcher to step up and inspire me. Amir? Cody? Tanner? Anyone?

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      The many ways to appreciate the game… good point and thanks for the reminder 🙂

  2. Theresa Legault

    MBE, I think we may be soul sisters. Johnny Bench was my favorite Reds player during my youth, and I thought it was supremely awesome that he was inducted into the HOF on my birthday in 1989 (sadly, I was much older than 5 at that point). The first time I watched Joey Votto play I knew that there was something special about him, and he has become my favorite Reds player, not just because of his elite skills, but because he continually works on his game and is a really witty/funny guy!

    Thanks for another great read!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I was in the same room as Bench once for like 10 seconds. I’m sure he remembers it fondly.

  3. Scott Carter

    Love your column. We need humor during this rebuild, introvert or not. Loved the line “I had just been to Confession and didn’t want to haul right back in there to wipe off a homicide.” I about laughed out loud, which would have been bad seeing how I’m in the office. It kind of came out as a choked back sneeze.

    And we definitely need our favorite players during these times. I won’t tell my first one because it will tell my age.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thank you! That line cane into being in the sitcom in my head, so I’m glad to hear the laugh track would not have been necessary on that one.

  4. Scott Laney

    Love your writing. It is a great counter-balance to the sabermetric overload at times in some of these articles. Keep it up!!

  5. Eric

    In the movie My Fellow Americans, two former US Presidents, played by Jack Lemmon and James Garner, are discussing the person they were most excited to meet at the White House:

    Garner: Nelson Mandela.
    Lemmon: I’m not a reporter.
    Garner: Ella Fitzgerald. Mandela was a great man, but he couldn’t sing worth a…


    I feel like that when someone asks me who my favorite Reds player is. My first answer would be Johnny Bench, but if you really pressed me? Dave Collins. A consistent outfielder, a good lead-off hitter and a quick base-runner. Used to have a black-and-white 8X10 glossy that he signed…not sure what ever happened to it. *sigh* Good times.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That is one underrated movie.

      • Eric

        THANK you! I was starting to think it was just me!

  6. Mary Beth Ellis

    A possibility everyone time people are in the picture, my friend.