Odds And Ends

Offseason Icebreakers, Vol. 3: Romeo and Juliet

In order to alleviate the boredom of the offseason–the NFL and regular season ice hockey being inadequate as diversions–I’ll be posting icebreaker questions periodically. They’ll always be at least tangentially related to the Phillies, and, as always, feel free to leave your own answers in the comment section.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always dreamed of having an illicit romance. Bringing a girl home to my parents, or being brought home to hers, having them say “We don’t approve of her–you can’t see her anymore,” and having a love of such monumental potency that we’d carry on in secret. Or, now that I’m out of high school, serving in the trenches in World War II, falling for a fetching German girl, and sneaking across the battlefield every night, risking sniper fire and land mines, to say nothing of my commission (because who knows what secrets she’s been carrying back to the Nazis?) to be with her each night.

However, to paraphrase Shakespeare, I’ve hung my bugle in an invisible baldrick, so the only way I can imagine an emotional attachment like this is by rooting for players who aren’t on the Phillies. Now, don’t get me wrong, if the Marlins are playing the Phillies and Logan Morrison is in the lineup, I want him to go 0-for-4 with 4 strikeouts (an eventuality he seems to have accepted) and the Marlins to lose. But we all have players we like who happen to wear the enemy uniform. Today’s Icebreaker: is there a player you love who just happens to wear the enemy uniform? Who is it, and why? My response is after the jump. Leave yours in the comments.

I’ve always had an irrational love for Rockies lefty Jeff Francis. I think it stems from an article I read in Baseball Weekly when I was in 8th or 9th grade (it may have been this article, but I’m not sure–remember when we had to get our news from print media? Seems like so long ago). The long and the short of it is that Francis was a late bloomer who went to an NAIA school (the level of collegiate athletics below NCAA Division III) because that was the only way he could play American college baseball without leaving his native British Columbia. At the University of British Columbia, he not only became one of the top pitching prospects in the 2002 MLB draft, but he pursued a major in, of all things, physics. So, to my 15-year-old mind, he seemed like a cool guy with enough quirks (being Canadian, going to a small school, being a science geek with a 93-mph fastball) to be worth following.

Ultimately, Francis went ninth in the 2002 draft to Colorado, becoming the second-highest drafted Canadian ever (after fellow lefty Adam Loewen, who went fourth that same year). For this, Francis earned a passing mention in Moneyball as potential draft target for Oakland, had he fallen to the late first round, where they took Joe Blanton instead. Other pitchers taken in the first round that year include, incidentally, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, and Scott Kazmir.

Over the years, Francis turned into a good starting pitcher, perhaps best known among Phillies fans for besting Hamels in Game 1 of the 2007 NLDS and leading the Rockies, as their de facto ace, to their first World Series appearance. That year was probably Francis’ best, as he went 17-9 with a 4.22 ERA and a career high in K/BB ratio, to go with a ninth-place finish in the Cy Young voting (though in the interest of full disclosure, it was only one third-place vote in a year Jake Peavy won unanimously).

Francis pitched hurt in 2008 and only won 4 games with an ERA of 5.01 and missed all of 2009 after having shoulder surgery. Upon his return in 2010, Francis had lost his spot at the top of the Rockies’ rotation to Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook, and others, and given his just-below-average stats for last season, it’s unlikely he’ll ever be the same pitcher again.

Still, because I found him interesting so long ago and have followed him for such a long time, I’ll be rooting for him.

So the question remains: who’s your favorite non-Phillies player?

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