Updated: Dec 22, 2020
I have been a sports fan since birth, but really got invested around the ages of five and especially six. I believe 2006 to be the first "official" year that I watched sports religiously. Over the years, there have been athletes in each sport that have stood out to me, but none that helped me fall in love with sports at a young age like these six, one from the MLB, NHL, NFL, NBA, NCAA football, and NCAA basketball.
MLB: David Wright, Third Baseman, New York Mets
I follow my dad's fandom in almost every sport, and that was no different in baseball, where I was introduced as a Mets fan in the golden era, the 2005-2008 era of Mets baseball. Perhaps the face of that era for the Mets was David Wright, the star third baseman who was both a fan favorite and incredible at baseball. There was nothing better than seeing him duke it out against the division rival Philadelphia in my first-ever game at Shea Stadium (my first game, believe it or not, was at legendary baseball cathedral RFK Memorial Stadium) and be the face of the franchise in some pretty down years of Mets baseball following the knocking down of Shea Stadium. I liked David Wright so much that I mimicked his routine in the batter's box when I was playing little league. Wright and Jose Reyes were so fun to watch for the Mets and made me truly become a Mets fan. Wright picked up All-Star appearances almost every year and is as close to Mr. Met as any other player.
NHL: Martin Brodeur, Goaltender, New Jersey Devils
The Devils were probably my most favorite team when I was younger because they made the playoffs virtually every year, and I believe a Devils game was the first sporting event I have ever attended at the ripe age of six. While any number of players could have taken this spot, Brodeur stands out from the rest. I was very fortunate to be able to watch the best goaltender of all-time make some absolutely spectacular saves night in and night out for the Devils. To this day, I collect Martin Brodeur cards, of which I have over 180 of them. Brodeur defined this era for the Devils and was the third defenseman back in the net. He was incredible to watch in person. The sheer craziness of some of his saves and the stickhandling ability were what really made me love Devils hockey and the sport as a whole, and I still play hockey to this day.
NFL: Ronnie Brown, Running Back, Miami Dolphins
While my football interest was not as strong as the other two sports, I would still watch it every Sunday with my dad, and the Dolphins were average, good, or bad every year I watched them. The player that stands out to me the most is Ronnie Brown, who was one of the most electric players I have ever watched. While he wasn't necessarily elite, only getting to the Pro Bowl once in his career, he was still a great running back, piquing my interest in both football and the Miami Dolphins. Between him, Chris Chambers, and Chad Pennington, the Dolphins of that era were memorable to me.
NBA: Steve Nash, Guard, Phoenix Suns
I have never been a huge NBA fan, but one player that really captivated my minimal interest in basketball was Steve Nash. Nash was a magician with the ball and the face of some insane Suns teams alongside Amaré Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, and others. I specifically remember how good the Suns were in NBA Live 08 and I would always try to modify the sliders so that I could get Steve Nash to dunk because I thought it was so cool seeing a guy who was about the same height and stature as I was going up and dunking. Nash is definitely my favorite NBA player of all time.
College Football: Joe Flacco, Quarterback, University of Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens
Some of my fondest memories as a kid are going to Delaware Stadium every weekend and tailgating with a huge group of family friends, playing football on the practice fields then going into the stadium to watch Blue Hens football. Flacco absolutely defined that era, and Flacco and Omar Cuff were an incredible QB-RB duo that vaulted the Blue Hens into greatness every year, making it all the way to the FCS Championship in 2007 where they ultimately fell to Appalachian State. Flacco was destined for stardom after he controlled the game so well under head coach K.C. Keeler at Delaware, and it made it even better that he was drafted locally in Baltimore in 2008. To this day, you will still see people donning #5 jerseys at Delaware Stadium, as they were practically best-sellers when they were on the shelves during his time at Delaware.
College Basketball: Tyler Hansbrough, Forward, North Carolina Tar Heels
From a young age, I was introduced to Carolina basketball by my dad who was a huge Carolina fan. It helped that their star player during my youth was a player who had the same first name as me, which helped me like him even more. Not only was Tyler Hansbrough dominant on the court, but I also had a #50 jersey that I would wear whenever I would play basketball with my friends. Hansbrough won a national championship in 2009 and multiple awards during his career at Carolina. That same #50 hangs from the rafters in Chapel Hill. I still love college basketball and March Madness to this day, and you can thank Tyler Hansbrough for that.
A kid's favorite athlete comes to them in many ways, and for me, I was lucky enough to have one star player on each of the teams I watched when I was younger that helped me love sports as a whole. Those days in sports were some of my favorite, and I wouldn't trade that time in my life for anything else.