It's hard to say what makes a person choose an athlete as his or her favorite player.
Sometimes there are obvious reasons - the best player on the team, the hero in the big game - but who's to say why one person prefers, say, Ben Roethlisberger and another idolizes Troy Polamalu? Why someone cheers for Jeff Gordon instead of Dale Jr.? Chase Utley instead of Derek Jeter? Michael Jordan had lots of fans, more than he could count. But I'm sure there still were plenty who preferred John Stockton.
When the fan is my age - for that matter, half my age - he or she can at least explain why. But how do you get a child to quantify that choice?
The short answer is, you can't. But it's been fun to watch these past few months as our son Christopher has chosen his first favorite player. Now we just have to get him to learn that player's name.
The one thing we knew was that he would have to choose a hockey player - it's all he knows. This kid has gone to nearly 150 hockey games - the vast majority of them in Hershey - and he isn't even 3 years old yet. He's been to home game, road games, NHL games, ECHL games and even a Southern League game.
Of all the players he's seen, the handful he's met, he decided on ... Andrew Gordon?
We expected him to pick the goalie. This boy does an amazing act before each game, performing the same acrobatic warmup routine as the netminders. He draws an audience when he does it on the Giant Center concourse. He imitated the goalie. He said he was the goalie.
And then, one night, he looked up at his mom and asked, "Who is that No. 10 on the ice? He's good. I like him."
That was the beginning. When Hershey's annual meet the players night rolled around, you can guess who the happiest kid on the ice was when he actually got up close and personal with his new hero. Whenever Gordon takes a shift, everyone sitting around us is made aware who is skating.
Gordon suggested to Christopher that he should score goals instead of stopping them, so now his focus is to hit the puck, pretend it's in the net and cheer with his imaginary teammates.
And he certainly could have done a lot worse when it came to choosing a favorite. Gordon played in all 80 games for Hershey this year, plus got his first taste of the NHL. He's scored more than 50 goals in the two years he's been a Bear, including the team's first goal in this year's Calder Cup playoffs. Last year, he played more than 60 games in the AHL and 20 in the ECHL, with appearances in the postseason in both leagues. And that's after a successful playing career at St. Cloud State.
Not bad for a 24-year-old. He's a great kid, too - he's out at the bench before every game, meticulously taping his own stick, offering a brief prayer and then signing a few autographs for the kids hanging at the glass. When Gordon reached his gloved hand above the glass before Wednesday's game, asking Christopher to give him a special high five, it was a moment that surely sealed the young player's place in our family history.
He had a great game, too. I'll credit the little guy for that.
There's only one problem, which became only too apparent when Christopher woke me up early one morning this week. This time, he was pretending to be Don Scott. Not a player; Scott, a daytime coworker of former Sentinel sports editor Dan Sernoffsky (who walks the Bears beat these days), is the announcer for most Bears home games. From the end of my bed, his miniature hockey stick turned into a pretend microphone, Christopher announced at the top of his little lungs:
"Lay-dees and gen-mun - your Hershey Bay-ers! Here's number 10 - Gordon Annnn-drew!"
As it turns out, he's fixated on a guy whose name he can't even get in the right order.
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Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.