Earlier this week, Ender Inciarte grabbed his second consecutive Gold Glove as a National Leaguer for the Braves, and Byron Buxton took his first in the American League with the Twins. I'm still giddy, not only over the selections of those two center fielders, but of several other things.
Let's get this out of the way. The winners of the Cy Young Award are nice. The same goes for those honored every season as the premier Rookie, Manager or even Comeback Player of the Year. Oh, and you can't forget about the Most Valuable Player Awards.
Give me the Gold Glove Award winners.
Nothing tops them. If they're center fielders who glide forward, backwards or sideways while using their glove as a magnet for fly balls after outrunning the wind, that's even better. I mean, just think about this for a moment: A diving catch in the alleys. The scaling of a wall to make a hitter miserable by yanking a home run back into fair territory. A laser throw to nail a runner at any base. Those are the ultimate defensive gems, especially if they involve center fielders, the kings of the diamond.
OK, I'm biased here. I was eternally a center fielder as a youth during the 1960s and 1970s, and I could play a little. Whether I was watching a game live from Crosley Field and later Riverfront Stadium when I lived in Cincinnati, worshiping the Big Red Machine, or I was sitting before a television screen featuring Major League action, I was hugging the center fielders. I dissected them, too. From the underrated Bobby Tolan to perennial Gold Glove-winner Cesar Geronimo. They were mostly the center fielders for the Reds back then, but I wasn't just partial to the hometown team along these lines.
Who couldn't enjoy Paul Blair? He was the sleek center fielder for the Orioles. You never got the feeling he was out of position. Rick Monday joined Bill North, Mickey Stanley and others in the solid category. Curt Flood was nearly flawless for the Cardinals, and I'm trying to remember if Tommie Agee ever made a catch for the Mets while standing on his feet.
• 2017 Gold Glove Award winners
The best of Willie, Mickey and the Duke happened before my time. That said, with Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider only on highlight reels, I still was able to see Willie Mays near the end of his career when he came to Crosley Field with his Giants before he went to the Mets for his baseball finale. That wasn't the same Willie, but like everybody else, I knew all about his legend in center. I saw multiple replays of his sprint at the Polo Grounds, his overhead grab and his whirling throw against the Indians during the 1954 World Series.
So I applauded this week when Gold Gloves went to baseball's version of the Human Highlight Film (you know, with apologies to NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, who didn't trademark his nickname) and to a rising star who also was rather spectacular in the field this season while leading his peers in the combination of sabermetrics and thrills.
The former of those two Gold Glovers is Inciarte, 27, who just finished his second season with the Braves after a couple playing for the D-backs. Then there is the 23-year-old Buxton, who has spent all three of his years in the Major Leagues with the Twins. Nothing against Inciarte, but according to MLB.com's Baseball Savant, Buxton led all outfielders last season in Outs Above Average at 25. Inciarte was second at 19, and I know what you're thinking: Willie, Mickey and the Duke would be proud of their 21st-century successors.
I'm talking about even beyond Inciarte and Buxton.
Remember: Prior to 2011, three Gold Gloves were given to outfielders regardless of their position. Now, when it comes to center field, well, you get the picture. Just in the NL, Inciarte was competing for Gold Glove honors against the Reds' Billy Hamilton, who uses maybe the fastest legs in the game to snag line drives anywhere in his vicinity. He rivals Inciarte for dramatic catches, and the Mets' Juan Lagares has more than a few of those moments.
Don't forget about the Nationals' Michael A. Taylor. After he took over center field early last season for the injured Adam Eaton, he used his great arm and splendid instincts to make a charge at Inciarte and Hamilton.
In the AL, there is the Angels' Michael Trout as Mr. Everything, and that's enough right there for Buxton to try to overcome for future Gold Glove Award honors. It's just that Buxton and Trout aren't the only ones in the mix here. The Rays' Kevin Kiermaier and the Orioles' Adam Jones have been two-time winners since the start of the new Gold Glove system for outfielders six years ago. Then there are the Red Sox's Jackie Bradley Jr. and the Blue Jays' Kevin Pillar, and they are without Gold Gloves. Well, officially. They have unofficial ones in the minds of many through their slick play on a consistent basis.
I'm giddy again.