Rooting for the underdog might be a bit cliché, but it’s all I know in sports. When I played hockey, I never cared much for how many points Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux had. You taped a great Patrick Roy save from Sportscenter? Great. Hit pause, and give me a minute – I want to see how Yvon Corriveau did in last night’s Whalers loss. I may have been the only kid in America saving up his allowance for an authentic New York Rangers jersey with Randy Gilhen’s name on the back, to join the one I already had of Daniel Berthiaume. Rooting for the stars was boring, because you knew they were going to succeed. There wasn’t any risk in that. Celebrating their successes was two parts surprise and one part inevitability. The real, exhilarating action lies elsewhere.
This same attitude stayed with me when I started following baseball closely. Joe Sheehan has his guys, and I have mine, too, though they’re no threat to make it onto the VORP leaderboards. This is one reason I make a lousy fantasy player. Because how can I not have Trent Durrington on my roster? You give me one good reason why I shouldn’t draft Nate McLouth. And if you try “because you’ll lose,” I think you’ll discover just how uninterested I am in treating fantasy sports as competition. It’s not about winning, dammit: it’s about nurturing my bizarre infatuation with Ryan McGuire.
The 2007 Amateur Draft is behind us now, and we’re all still getting acquainted with the new crop of potential stars, fully knowing that, by this time next year, our optimism will get tempered by the emergence of a new Matt Bush, Dewon Brazelton, or Seth Greisinger. And if you conducted a poll of Tiger fans about who they’re most excited about from last week’s draft, most people would probably choose first-rounder Rick Porcello. But I would choose differently: my man is 31st round University of Pittsburgh pitcher Paul Nardozzi.
See, I live outside Rochester, New York, about five miles from where Nardozzi grew up. It’s cold here. We eat foods that most of the country just doesn’t understand. Few people outside of our immediate vicinity can comprehend why we love Wegmans so much. And, as far as athletics go, we don’t send many baseball players off to professional careers. So when a local guy like Nardozzi gets selected by a big league team…well, that doesn’t happen that much.
I’m not saying I’m already being fitted for a replica Detroit Tiger jersey with Nardozzi’s name on the back, but come on: Nardozzi went to Victor High School, which is in the same town as my favorite pizza joint, my optometrist and my otolaryngologist. He’s also got the double-whammy of “cold weather high school, cold weather college.” There’s just no way I can’t root for this guy.