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Life Lessons

Keep A List Of Players You Like

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 28: A fan of the Chicago White Sox looks over his scorecard in the outfield during the last game of the season against the Toronto Blue Jays at U.S. Cellular Field on September 28, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blue Jays defeated the White Sox 3-2.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

One night, during the early rounds of this year’s Australian Open, I stayed up late to watch Felix Auger-Aliassime. Or that’s what I thought I was doing. The twist of the match was that I quickly found myself more interested in his opponent, a Finnish guy with an awesome forehand down the line. He reminded me a little of Lady Edith from Downton Abbey—striking pallor, and wavy gold hair. Emil Ruusuvuori would lose that match, narrowly, but he would win something far more important: a place on my list of tennis guys.

I keep lists of athletes I like in my phone’s Notes app. There’s a baseball list I opened this morning, ready for a new season of additions; a mostly dormant basketball list; a hard-to-crack tennis list; and a hockey list due for some pruning. (On Saturday, Travis Sanheim became member No. 61.) Everyone who’s anyone is keeping a list. Consider this sweet 94-year-old grandmother who writes the names of NBA players she likes in her notepad, with lines marking off sections for each team. Her favorite Sixer is Danny Green. She does not have a favorite Raptor. The players on your lists can be random call-ups, the best player on the team, the sixth-best, whatever. What matters is that one day, you happened to be watching them play, and they happened to catch your eye. It’s all about natural discovery.

Here is how I approach the work of listmaking: I tend not to add widely admired superstars; in my view, a list of guys is more fun the more particular it is. But if you want Shohei Ohtani or Sue Bird or Serena Williams on your list, put them there. It’s your list! I also don’t put any of my own teams’ players on the lists. That they are my guys goes without saying. Are there players on my teams whom I don’t like? Sure. But they are MY wastes of space and MY total clowns with no business playing in the big leagues, thank you very much.

What I appreciate most about the lists is the chance they give me to reflect on a season, or to reflect on myself. What teams did I return to over and over? What plays excite me? Do I have a type? My list reminds me just how many Thunder games I watched a couple years ago. (Enough for Terrance Ferguson to endear himself to me. It seems he is now in the G-League.) I would give my life for most defensive outfielders. Last season, I was drawn to small, puck-moving defensemen, but lately, two-way centers have overtaken them. Sometimes it’s fun when a trip to the list asks you to work backward and search your memory for the moment that propelled someone to its ranks. I believe I added Victor Robles after a praying mantis landed on his head.

So make a list! I promise it will be fun. In honor of Opening Day, I will share with you one of my own:

MY GUYS: BASEBALL EDITION

  • Kenta Maeda
  • Jake Cronenworth
  • Victor Robles
  • Tyler Glasnow
  • Bo Bichette
  • John Means
  • Ryan Mountcastle
  • Wander Franco
  • Jonathan India
  • Ke’Bryan Hayes
  • Willians Astudillo
  • Harrison Bader
  • Kevin Kiermaier