I don’t remember when I went from loving baseball as a sport to loving the specific players who played the game. My earliest memories of baseball are of sitting in front of the television with a set of bases I made out of construction paper, positioning my stuffed animals around them while I kept score in a Lisa Frank notebook. I didn’t play Strat-O-Matic or anything, but I had my own form of baseball nerdery from an early age. Each one had a tag around its neck made of construction paper and kitchen twine so I could remember who was who, although I do remember trying, loosely, to match like to like. The Folkanimals jaguar puppet was Griffey, because it was sleek and fast. The Pound Puppy was Jay Buhner because I was an extremely literal child. Plum Pudding was Pete O’Brien because they both had glasses (I refer here of course to the 80s Strawberry Shortcake version, who had thick glasses and dressed like an English schoolboy and probably grew up to be genderqueer and run a vegan bakery, and not her tarted-up modern version). And when Edgar Martínez got to be Uni the unicorn, I knew I had a favorite player.
I was a sick kid, and in my second-grade year I got some wicked combination of ills that kept me out of school for over a month. So instead of going to school, which was the one thing I knew I was good at, I was at home on the couch, reading the Secret Garden twenty times and not talking to anyone. As a gesture of sympathy, my mom brought me Uni, a plush white unicorn with pink satin wings and a yarn mane and big, understanding eyes, and it was my favorite, long after it was okay to have a favorite stuffed animal, long after I realized that the kind of kid who sits in front of a baseball game with stuffed animals to represent the players isn’t going to be the most popular kid in class, ever. When Edgar became a full-time player I scratched out the Precious Moments message (“take me to paradise”) in the pink plastic locket around Uni’s neck and wrote his name in, and it felt like signing a pact.
Choosing a favorite player is a little like falling in love; it reveals just as much about you, what you like and what you value. In that way it can be a little scary, signing your name to what you love. It can be frustrating, too; it’s something that makes perfect sense to you, although you struggle to express it, because words don’t seem to explain it properly. As Flaubert says, “language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.” It is so hard to talk about what you love, so much harder than it should be. In a way, doing this series is chickening out, because I feel like if I just say enough things about my favorite thing, my favorite player ever, eventually I will hit on the right thing; or else the amalgamation of all of it together will be enough, like Proust and his madeleines.
I think there’s something beautiful in that, though, in how choosing something as a favorite is a promise to serve that thing in any way you can. We often laugh off listing favorites as a first date activity, but really, it’s a form of intimacy, telling someone what you love, what you are pledged to. I am proud that Edgar, someone who is kind and hardworking and thoughtful, is my favorite. I am not all of those things, and certainly not all the time, but occasionally reminding myself of that—yes, I do still have Uni—helps me strive towards those goals, so that maybe someday I will be someone else’s favorite.