The Face of Baseball
June 4, 2005

Recently there was an interesting development at and ESPN the magazine.  The company announced they were looking for a player that Major League Baseball would love to market.  This player would become the poster boy for the game, much the way the NBA marketed Magic and Bird, then Michael Jordan.  Tim Kirkjian apparently was given the final vote and cast it for Derek Jeter, based on his all out effort and "winning ways".  Eric Neel also wrote on the topic, offering some compelling candidates which ranged from the anonymous (Clint Barmes) to the infamous (Jason Giambi).  In between, he suggested standout human beings like Sean Casey and Carlos Delgado, guys who have persevered against expectations like Bruce Chen and even a few because he thought they were cool (John Smoltz, David Eckstein and Dontrelle Willis).  All of them are worthy to be considered, but to my mind there is only one player who meets the criteria as the player baseball should most build their marketing campaign around.

What qualities should such a player have?  Well, since fans love the longball, he should probably be a slugger.  He has to not only have obvious star talent, but star quality as well.  People have to gravitate towards him, players, fans and media alike.  He also has to make his teammates better.  He has to be a guy his team and the fans can count on to play every day and give a special effort each and every game.  He has to embody both the game's intellect, but also it's youthful exuberance.  He has to be a role model, available to the public for autographs, not just at card shows and fan fests, but before and after games.  And ideally, he has to represent the fastest growing segment of baseball's player and fan population, that of Latin Americans. 

Fortunately for Major League Baseball, there is such a player.  He's been an All-Star and an MVP, he's set team records for RBI in a season, he's always among the leaders in home runs and even won a home run derby at an All Star game.  His defense is gold glove quality and he hasn't missed a game since 2000.  He's the most popular player with his teammates, but such a fierce competitor he never lets anyone slack off no matter what the score is.  His teammates feed off his never-ending energy as he is always upbeat with an infectious, goofy, gap-toothed smile and keeping things loose with peppy chatter and the occasional prank.  As an example, when Napoleon Calzado got his first major league hit, the team requested the ball be removed from play as is the custom.  However, when it reached the dugout, our player switched it secretly with a batting practice ball and then while Calzado was watching the dugout, he stepped out and tossed the ball to the fans.  Calzado nearly soiled himself.  Even the team's PR director was fooled and was rushing out of the pressbox to retrieve the ball and replace it with another before he realized what had really just transpired.  He is without question the best player at his position and one of the best paid in the game, yet after just about every game he's out in the player's parking lot signing autographs for 30 minutes to an hour.  And he's from the heart of Latin American baseball, the Dominican Republic. 

I was kind of surprised that Kirkjian didn't even mention him in his piece for the magazine considering that this player plays all his home games less than an hour from where Kirkjian lives.  He ran the gamut of great players from Clemens to Bonds, but did not mention this guy even once. 

But maybe, like so many covering the game, he just didn't realize how good this guy really is.   Folks in Baltimore certainly know.  Miguel Tejada is the face of baseball.