Which players did the Diamondbacks look up to growing up?

Mar 24, 2024, 7:57 AM | Updated: Mar 25, 2024, 4:32 am

Christian Walker...

Christian Walker #53 of the Arizona Diamondbacks signs a baseball card for a fan before the game against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park on April 15, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Bryan Cereijo/Getty Images)

(Photo by Bryan Cereijo/Getty Images)

SCOTTSDALE — Everyday throughout spring training, young fans get the opportunity to get up close to their baseball heroes for autographs, pictures or even a short conversation they won’t soon forget.

But which players did members of the Diamondbacks look up to in their formative years that led them to professional ball at the highest level?

All-Star outfielder and Seattle native Corbin Carroll has been open about his fandom of Mariners greats Ichiro Suzuki and Felix Hernandez, showing off his Ichiro phone wallpaper last season. Ryan Thompson emulated his submarine style after former D-backs closer Byung-Hyun Kim, and Zac Gallen was a noted Cardinals fan after watching Mark McGwire’s memorable Home Run Derby in 1999.

What about some of their teammates?

1B Christian Walker

A native of Norristown, Penn., Christian Walker grew up a Philadelphia sports fan. He looked up to future Hall of Fame third baseman Scott Rolen for traits Walker now displays with Arizona.

“When I was finally at the years to appreciate the game, Scott Rolen was somebody I liked to watch play a lot,” Walker said. “I related to him because he was a good hitter, but to see how good he was defensively, and up until that point I thought you were either a good hitter or a good defender, he seemed to do both.”

Sound familiar? Walker has become essential to both the D-backs’ lineup and defense as a two-time Gold Glover who has 69 homers in the past two seasons.

Rolen embodied being a two-way player with eight Gold Gloves for three different teams and a career .855 OPS.

RHP Merrill Kelly

Merrill Kelly wore the No. 7 growing up while looking up to Hall of Fame Houston Astros catcher/infielder Craig Biggio. Kelly was born in Houston, and when he was a youngster, Biggio and Jeff Bagwell were starting to breakout as franchise icons.

“When I was a kid, I thought I was a hitter, so I would pay attention to them,” Kelly said.

Biggio’s son, Cavan, made his MLB debut with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019, and he went 0-for-2 against Kelly in a game.

C Gabriel Moreno

As a kid in Venezuela, Gabriel Moreno looked up to his countryman Miguel Cabrera, the two-time AL MVP who retired last season as the all-time leader in hits and home runs by a Venezuelan major leaguer.

The young catcher’s MLB debut as a member of the Blue Jays came against Cabrera’s Tigers in 2022, when he got the chance to talk to the future Hall of Famer.

LHP Joe Mantiply

The Braves’ rookie ball team played in Danville, Virginia, where Joe Mantiply grew up rooting for Atlanta.

“The guys I loved were (Greg) Maddux and (John) Smoltz and (Tom) Glavine and pretty much like all the guys around the ’90s Braves,” Mantiply said.

Mantiply said he hasn’t had the chance to meet Atlanta’s formidable trio yet, although he met another pitching role model in Roger Clemens this offseason.

RHP Ryne Nelson

An Angels fan growing up in Las Vegas, Ryne Nelson gravitated to right-hander Jared Weaver, although the pitcher he tried to emulate was San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum. Very different profiles for the 6-foot-7 Weaver and 5-foot-11 Lincecum.

“I just liked the way that they threw,” Nelson said. “They were lanky guys. Lincecum wasn’t very big and I was pretty small growing up.”

Nelson said he was 5-foot-2 entering his freshman year of high school and finished the year 5-foot-11.

Lincecum had a unique motion to get the most out of his frame, and Nelson’s slight hitch is somewhat reminiscent of it.

OF Jake McCarthy

The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was boiling when Jake McCarthy was young in the early 2000s, and he was not too far from the action in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“I’m from the northeast, and the Yankees when I was born, (Derek) Jeter was was everything, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry till I was like 10-12 years old was huge,” McCarthy said. “So I feel like that was kind of how I got into baseball. My dad played a little professional baseball. My brother played baseball professionally, so I kind of was born into you’re gonna play sports.”

Watching the Yankees win a World Series against the Phillies in 2009 when so many of his friends were Phillies fans was a treat.

When McCarthy got older, he started to gravitate toward good-hitting lefties as he got more serious as a player.

LHP Andrew Saalfrank

Andrew Saalfrank prefaced his answer by admitting he would be cliched for a lefty: Clayton Kershaw.

But he also grew up a Cardinals fan looking up to Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. As a left-handed reliever, he began to grow a greater appreciation for former Orioles closer Zack Britton.

“Just because I think my stuff is pretty similar to him,” Saalfrank said of Britton. “He’s a little more slider than curveball but someone I like to watch how he pitches. He was so good for so long. Not saying I’m even remotely close to his caliber but just watching how he played the game and how he executed his stuff.”

Then he attempted to recall his favorite pitchers from MLB the Show growing up, and the conversation became naming mid 2000s videos games, so let’s stick with those four.

RHP Bryce Jarvis

Bryce Jarvis’ answer was pretty easy, his father Kevin Jarvis who pitched 12 seasons in the major leagues.

Seeing the clubhouse culture as a youngster is a memory Jarvis said he reflects on now that he understands the daily ins and outs.

“You’re just a kid in the clubhouse and now like actually being the guy in the clubhouse, you kind of see things from a different perspective and have a different appreciation for what goes into living this life,” Jarvis said. “From a family perspective, time commitment, it makes me appreciate some of the things my dad was going through.”

But Jarvis had other answers, including his dad’s teammates. The elder Jarvis pitched with legendary Padres closer Trevor Hoffman for three seasons, and the two were close from what Bryce Jarvis remembers.

“I picked up an appreciation for the changeup,” Jarvis said. “He’s got massive hands, I have small hands so it’s not necessarily the way we throw it but just the effect and effectiveness of a good changeup. Everyone wants to rip sliders, nasty breaking balls, but I’ve always loved a good changeup.”

C Jose Herrera

Not always a catcher, Jose Herrera was a shortstop growing up, so his favorite player to watch was fellow Venezuelan Omar Vizquel. But once Herrera started to catch, he met a new hero in Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez.

“I got the honor to meet him and work with him a couple times down in Dominican Republic and he’s been my hero since. I still talk to him. I talk to Yadier Molina as well, we got a good relationship. Those two guys have helped me throughout my career.”

Herrera said he met Rodriguez in 2011 at a Texas Rangers tryout in the Dominican Republic. Herrera ended up signing with the D-backs in 2013.

“He saw the intent I had to be a catcher and the respect I have for the position,” Herrera said of Rodriguez. “After I signed with the Diamondbacks, I got to see him here in spring training and it was a pretty awesome experience.”

RHP Scott McGough

Scott McGough was also a shortstop when he was young in the Pittsburgh area, and the Pirates had a Gold Glove shortstop to look up to at the time.

“I was a shortstop growing up so I loved originally watching Omar Vizquel, and then Jack Wilson was the Pirates shortstop when I was a little older. Those were two of my favorite players to watch.”

McGough grew up going to Pirates games, so getting to pitch at PNC Park last year was a special experience.

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Which players did the Diamondbacks look up to growing up?