Favorite Athlete: Alvaro Espinoza
When Alvaro Espinoza was the Yankees' shortstop, sometime during The Second Interregnum (a/k/a The Mattingly Years, between Jackson and Jeter), I'd go to 25 or 30 games a year at the Stadium. The place was rarely more than half full on weeknights; loud music and noisy scoreboard games weren't blaring at every break in the action. Steinbrenner was in jail or suspended or something, which gave the Yankees a purity they haven't had since. It wasn't just sport, where winning matters, but art, where what matters is one person doing a thing, at one moment in time, in a way that no one else could.
Mattingly was the best player, Henderson was the best athlete, but Alvaro Espinoza was an artist. He chased down pop ups like a little boy catching bubbles, his back to the plate, weaving, unhurried, the ball seeming to float, waiting for him to meet it. I saw him nonchalantly take a lob in from the outfield on a routine single, and while the batter took his turn and put his head down for an instant to trot back to first, Alvaro pivoted and whipped a sidearm throw behind him to get the out. He would backhand a ball in the hole, his feet already planted and pointing toward first, and come over the top in a single motion – an economy of motion that allowed for no Jeter-like flying hop and turn.
And, as with all great artists, there was a hint of melancholy to Alvaro. A sense of a career doomed by a slow bat (but what a bunter!), poor eyesight and the inevitable return of Steinbrenner. But that's the beauty of it: the schmerz, the joy in the shared sorrow that awaits us all. You know it's all for naught, but that somehow makes a person's attempts at art all the more beautiful to behold.
-- Jonathan Hock is one of America's best sports documentarians -- his brilliant 30 For 30 docs on Marcus Dupree and Jim Valvano's N.C. State champion are must sees. He sent in a 100- and 300-word version of this Alvaro Espinoza essay ... I couldn't deprive you of the 300-word one. Jon and I are also co-founders of the Alfred Slote Is Awesome Club. We keep planning the first meeting.