By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
An undeniably cool factor bursting through the most historic of American sports, driven by performance, for sure, but even more by personality.
And baseball loves it.
There are five guys at the top Major League Baseballits homemade top list that also gives heartbeats to the season. They bring all the hype you need, but the short version descriptions don’t even tell half the story.
It’s a two-way superstar who embodies historical uniqueness, a five-tool shortstop who has an underdog sports city that dreams of a title, a slugger who defies logic with an incredible series of productivity, a son of a big one who can prove even bigger and a guy so funny to see that recording artists write songs about him.
Still what Shohei Ohtani, Fernando Tatis Jr., Kyle schwarber, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Ronald Acuña Jr. do is bigger than the numbers they put up, bigger than the pretty little story every man has, bigger than the longest of the boats they keep sending crashes against the bleachers at a hectic pace.
“How to grow the game,” said FOX Sports MLB analyst Ben Verlander. “These players are incredibly exciting, and they change the way baseball is viewed and portrayed.
“If you drew at the beginning of the year what the top five home leaders would look like, it would be a dream come true for these guys. Everyone wants them to do well because they’re stars. People turn on the TV. not to look at Los Angeles Angels, because they stink, but to look at Ohtani, because he is the most incredible player on the planet. “
Baseball’s fierce five provide compelling reasons to watch their team any night, or perhaps every single night.
Because it so often seems that one or more of them do something spectacular enough to induce FOMO, which is what every major sport needs to satisfy its broad fan base.
Combined, they make what may be the sleepiest part of the regular season, anything but boring, and they do it with whirling.
On his way into Thursday’s matches, Ohtani was at the forefront of the home run package with 28 and is a pacesetter for the group of young weapons that shine so brightly. What he does as both an elite pitcher and an outrageously good hitter is something that has not been seen since Babe Ruth’s days almost a hundred years ago.
“He’s a joy,” Angels boss Joe Maddon told reporters. “He’s what baseball needs both as a player and as an example. He’s about the moment. He’s prepared. He’s encouraging. There are so many different things about him that I really like. I like to see him like to play baseball. “
In San Diego, Tatis (26 HR) is the main character Padresongoing revival, after making the National League West an exciting three-way race with San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers. Thanks, not least, to Tatis’ continuous energy and ability to deliver the high-reel spark every game.
Schwarber’s wave up the charts has come at the back of a historic June that was simply amazing. There he was, it Citizens of Washington‘Leadoff hitter, thwacking 16 HRs in 18 games to take his count to 25, a series matched just yesterday by Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa.
And just as Schwarber began to get real attention for his accomplishments, the longtime Cub and freshman National did not wither, sending the very first pitch he saw on Tuesday hovering out of the National Park against Tampa Bay Rays.
“This group does ridiculous things and makes them look normal,” Verlander added. “That’s why I have to sound the alarm for the first track in all these Nationals games, because there’s a good chance that the first track could be a home run.”
Guerrero Jr. (26 homers) and Acuña Jr. (22) is marginally more under the radar. Tea Toronto Blue Jays plays his home games in Buffalo, but is on a current hot strip, and Guerrero, son of the Hall of Famer of the same name, is seen as Ohtani’s main contender for the American League MVP award.
As for Acuña Jr., there’s some confusion about how he, with him playing better than ever, Atlanta braves has dipped so far below the form that took them to the brink of reaching the World Series last season. But the team’s fight did not stop indie folk artist Faye Webster from pointing to a song about him – “A dream with a baseball player” – and puts it in the best position on her recently released album.
“(It’s a) song about Ronald Acuña Jr., obviously,” Webster said. “On the tour, I spent so much of my time watching baseball that I thought I wanted to be a baseball player. But I’m not, so I guess the next best thing was to fall in love with one.”
Okay, so … move on.
Is there anyone else who discovers a low-key but exciting shift happening here?
Wins and losses are always important, but superstar-driven fan power, which has been most associated with the NBA for a long time, is spreading in baseball and MLB is leaning into it.
No one is bigger than the game, but some players are strong, cool and relevant enough to lift the sport on their shoulders, and that’s what’s happening right now.
When that happens, it’s enough to break through all the history and all the competitive fandom. Quite simply, if you love baseball, you want these players to shine – and they reward that belief.
All of this was perfectly summed up in the pot at Yankee Stadium this week, when Ohtani beat his second home run of the game Tuesday night.
Right there in the Bronx, the loyal locals had just seen their beloved team on the receiving end of an explosion, which would normally provoke either silence or boos.
Instead, they cheered. And baseball cheers along with them.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
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