It’s easy to say your favorite player is LeBron James, Tom Brady or any other star. It’s a lot harder to justify dropping $100 on the jersey of a player who is a career role-player. But sometimes those players that never attract the spotlight end up becoming huge pieces of your favorite teams or create your fondest memories.
So here’s to you, role-players and benchwarmers who are mostly forgotten by the general population but live on in my 3 a.m. YouTube binges.
5. Daniel Nava
In a recurring theme of this list, Daniel Nava was the ultimate underdog. Considered too short and too skinny, Nava was cut from baseball teams in high school and college. After going undrafted, the Red Sox bought his contract from an independent league team for one dollar.
Nava finally broke through at the major league level in 2012 and did so with gusto. During his first major league at-bat with the bases loaded, Nava took Phillies’ pitcher Joe Blanton deep to become only the third player in the modern era to hit a grand-slam in his first career at-bat.
Nava was also the hero of the day during the Sox’s first game back in Boston after the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. With the sports world’s eyes on Fenway, a day that started with emotional speeches and many tears ended in the best way possible when Nava grooved a three-run homer to give the Sox a lead in the eighth inning.Don Orsillo’s exclamation of “Boston, this is for you!” is on my shortlist of favorite sports calls. It was after this that Boston finally got the sense that everything really was going to be okay moving forward.
Nava continued to have the best season of his career in 2013, batting over .300, ninth in the American League. Always underappreciated and overlooked, Nava was a major reason why the Sox won the World Series in 2013 and a major aid to Boston’s healing process after tragedy.
Pretty solid investment for a dollar.
4/3. Brandon Bass/Jonas Jerebko
Both Bass and Jerebko are on this list for the same reason. Despite following the Celtics since Al Jefferson was on the team, these two are somehow responsible for my greatest Celtics’ playoff memories that I’ve seen in person.
After bouncing around the league early in his career, Bass finally found a home in Boston in 2012. With the 2012 conference semifinals against the Sixers knotted at two games apiece, Bass became Tim Duncan from midrange and Shaquille O’Neal under the basket. He couldn’t be stopped. I imagine this was how my dad felt watching Kareem Abdul-Jabaar back in the day. Bass finished with 27 points, six rebounds and one shirt purchased after the game.
Similarly, Jerebko was a role player for the 2016 Celtics but was forced into a starting role during their playoff series against Atlanta after Boston dropped the first two games and an Avery Bradley injury. Jerebko responded by putting the entire city of Atlanta on a poster just 25 seconds into the game.
For the rest of the game, whenever the ball found Jerebko, I was certain it was going to end in points. The box score says that he finished with 11 points and twelve rebounds, but I assume that’s a misprint because I distinctly remember him finishing with 64 points and the Celtics raising his jersey to the rafters immediately after the game.
2. Greg Stiemsma
Another huge underdog, Greg “The Steamer” Stiemsma never averaged over three points or three rebounds per game in college. He spent time overseas. Finally, he landed in the NBA with the Celtics, where color commentator/local legend/ unabashed homer Tommy Heinsohn proclaimed him the white Bill Russell.
That might have be an overstatement, but I argue it’s not much of an exaggeration. Stiemsma was crucial to the Celtics’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012, securing his place in my heart. His playing style was not graceful, but he wasn’t afraid to get physical down low. Honestly, that one season I had of Stiemsma in green was the closest I’ll ever come to watching myself out there on the parquet.
1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Not only is Jarrod Saltalamacchia one of my favorite athletes of all-time that is no one else’s, he’s just flat-out one of my favorite people to ever walk this earth. His nickname is Salty. He constantly looks like he wandered into the ballpark by mistake, after a local surfing competition. His game-winning single during game 2 of the 2013 ALCS. Even during 2012, the worst season of my sports fandom, Salty was a constant source of happiness, because my friends and I would sit in the bleachers and think of the absurd things he could possibly say in any given situation. There’s not a doubt in my mind, that guy had no idea where he was at any given moment.
I even got to meet him before a game in 2013. He was hanging around the Sox clubhouse casually signing balls for a small crowd of kids. I think my feet barely touched the ground as I raced up to the concourse to purchase a ball and a Sharpie. I came back, delivered some swift kicks to some 7-year-old’s shins and got my hero to sign a ball for me. It still sits on my mantle at home and may well be the first and only thing I rescue if my house started to burn down.
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.