Here’s one of my favorite things to come of Jonathan Davis' remarkable diving catch into the wall at Tropicana Field last week: It led to the revelation that his favorite player coming up was none other than Andrew McCutchen, whom Davis so idolized that he tried growing out his hair to match McCutchen’s dreadlocks.
Davis made his admission in a soft voice. McCutchen, after all, was mere feet away in the visitors’ clubhouse at PNC Park.
“It was a cool moment,” said Davis, describing when he heard the Brewers had signed McCutchen in Spring Training. “At first, it was like, ‘Oh dang, we signed Cutch. I’m probably not going to make the team.’ Then it was like, ‘It will be cool to play with him. I’ll just go in and work and hopefully I get a chance to play with him.’
“My wife actually asked me that question. She was like, ‘How do you feel?’ It’s cool. I try not to make it a big deal, but it was cool being in the same locker room with a guy you came up watching.”
Which made me wonder about Davis’ teammates’ favorite Major Leaguers. So, I polled some players and asked their favorites not when they were little kids, but when they were old enough to know that professional baseball could be a possibility.
Christian Yelich and Devin Williams: Derek Jeter
Andrew McCutchen and Brandon Woodruff: Ken Griffey Jr.
Omar Narváez: Yadier Molina
Eric Lauer: CC Sabathia
Aaron Ashby: Lorenzo Cain
Hunter Renfroe: Chipper Jones
Josh Hader: Randy Johnson
Brent Suter: Cliff Lee and Mark Buehrle
Jace Peterson: Craig Biggio
Mike Brosseau: Starlin Castro
Rowdy Tellez: Adrian González and Jim Thome
Kolten Wong: Jimmy Rollins
Luis Urías: Jose Altuve
Tyrone Taylor: Matt Kemp
Freddy Peralta: Pedro Martinez
Corbin Burnes: Nolan Ryan and Jered Weaver
The question wasn’t limited to players. As a boy in Milwaukee, Craig Counsell’s favorites were Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. But as he got into high school and college, he had a new favorite.
“In college, Walt Weiss was the guy I looked at and saw play and said, ‘Maybe I could do something like that,’” Counsell said. “And then I got to be in Spring Training with him [with the Rockies], which was pretty cool. I was just hoping to watch Walt Weiss and not talk to him, and then he was staying at the same hotel and would buy me breakfast every morning. You had to pinch yourself.”
Woodruff had a similar moment at the 2019 All-Star Game in Cleveland. He was in the National League’s clubhouse when suddenly Griffey appeared, reminding Woodruff of the way he tried to emulate Griffey’s batting stance and style, and wore No. 24 from coach pitch all the way through college. (He’s considered asking for it when it’s come available in the Majors, but Woodruff decided he’s made No. 53 his own, so he kept it.)
Woodruff asked for a photo, and Griffey obliged. But Woodruff, who isn’t much of a collector, immediately regretted not asking for something signed. He was encouraged by Phil Rozewicz, Milwaukee’s visiting clubhouse manager, to find a baseball for Griffey to autograph.
“I didn’t have a ball and I was freaking out,” Woodruff said. “Zack Wheeler was in the corner at his locker and he threw it to me and saved the day. I go over there and say, ‘Mr. Griffey, I’m sorry, would you mind signing this ball?’”
Of course, Griffey obliged once again.
It remains Woodruff’s most prized collectible from his career.
McCutchen, meanwhile, was humbled by Davis’ admiration.
“I don’t take that lightly, either,” McCutchen said. “In no way am I saying I’m Ken Griffey Jr., but if I was in the same locker room with Ken Griffey Jr. in my career… I can only imagine how I could be in that situation. I’m just trying to speak as much life wisdom as I can, understanding there’s somebody there who is a sponge who wants to soak it up. I try and do what I can to facilitate that. I might not get that opportunity again.”