In the world of professional sports, athletes are more-often-than-not drafted or signed away from their hometowns and are force to habitat in new and perhaps foreign cities. This is common-place and nobody should feel bad for any homesick athlete who is off making millions of dollars three-thousand miles from home. That's just the way it works.
Of course, ever so often, an athlete will find themselves playing for their hometown team. The team they probably grew up watching. The team from which they emulated star players during scrimmages with their friends. The team who they loved all their lives and now have a chance to play for and become the next hometown hero.
In the following article we will take a look at some of these homegrown talents and the impacts they have made on not only their respective cities but professional sports in general. Because being a star elsewhere is fantastic but being a star in front of your own people is something all its own. It comes with a certain level of pride, showmanship, and respect.
The idea of being a hometown hero is a righteous one. The ability to represent those you have known and loved all your life on a professional stage is impeccable. Friends and family looking on in awe of you as you take the field, or court, or rink in your very own hometown jersey. The dream has come true and what better place than right here at home?
Now, sometimes the hometown heroes leave and maybe they are resented for that as their city may feel betrayed. The ones who stick it out through the good and bad and remain in their city until the very end. The loyalist if you will.
Now, let's take a look at the top 15 hometown heroes in sports …
15 Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose, a Chicago native, was drafted first overall by his hometown team in the 2008 NBA Draft. That season, Rose would rise to become an instant hometown hero and was voted NBA Rookie of the Year. His star in Chicago would continue to rise as he would become the youngest player to ever win the NBA Most Valuable Player Award at the tender age of twenty-two. Joining the one-and-only Michael Jordan as the only Chicago Bulls players to have won the MVP Award. Rose has been plagued with injury for the past few seasons but the city of Chicago remains optimistic that their homegrown boy will be back better than ever to help the Bulls raise another championship banner.
14 Joe Mauer
Being the only catcher in the history of Major League Baseball to win three batting titles is an astounding accomplishment indeed. Add in three consecutive Gold Glove Awards and an American League Most Valuable Player Award and you have all the makings of a superstar baseball player. You have yourself a Joe Mauer. The Twin Cities hometown hero, Mauer was born in St. Paul, Minnesota where he has not only found acclaim but also love. Having found his wife in the Saintly Cities and establishing a family as such. Joe Mauer has since been moved from the catcher position and placed at first-base. A move designed to protect Mauer and his longevity in Minnesota.
13 Jack Ham
Jack Ham was born and raised in the gritty town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, just East of Pittsburgh. In 1971, he made his NFL debut as a a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers where he would spend his entire professional playing career. It is Pittsburgh where Jack Ham truly became a hometown hero. Ham even played his college ball at Penn State. There is no denying that Jack Ham is Pennsylvania through-and-through. Not only that, but he is widely considered to be one of the greatest outside linebacker to have ever played the game of football.
12 Dennis Eckersley
Dennis Eckersley spent the beginning of his professional baseball career as a starting pitcher, where he found some success., putting together a twenty-win season and even throwing a no hitter back in 1977. The long-haired, mustached pitcher spent time in Cleveland, Boston, and Chicago before finally being traded to his hometown Oakland Athletics in 1987. It was in Oakland where Ecerklsey would make the transition from starting pitcher to closer. This would prove to be a career-altering move as Eckersley would find more success in the closing role than he had as a starter The Oakland native would make good on his return home.
11 Cal Ripken Jr.
“The Iron Man,” Cal Ripken Jr. played twenty-one glorious and gutsy seasons in the MLB. Having played in two-thousand-six-hundred-and-thirty-two consecutive games, a Major League Baseball record, Ripken seemed to be non-human at times. Pain and punishment. Rest and relaxation. These words were seemingly non-existent in Ripken's vocabulary. The son of a Baltimore Oriole and lifelong Oriole himself, Cal's time in Baltimore is perhaps one of the most cherished fan/player relationships that the game has ever seen. A first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and rightfully so, Ripken has set the standard for men being men in the world of professional baseball.
10 Whitey Ford
Whitey Ford pitched sixteen seasons in the big-leagues for the New York Yankees. He was a part of six World Series Championship teams. Ford would eventually earn his spot as the number one pitcher in the already staked Yankees pitching rotation. Ford would go on to become one of the most renowned pitchers to have ever thrown a ball in the major leagues. He was known as “The Chairman of the Board,” due to his calm, cool, and collected approach during high-pressure situations. Whitey Ford has been loved in his home of New York City for decades and this love will continue for generations to come.
9 Wilt Chamberlain
Philadelphia born, Wilt Chamberlain is perhaps best known by younger basketball fans as the guy who scored a hundred points in a single game. Which he did, but he was also much more than a single statistic. Chamberlain was the quintessential center, changing and impacting the game in his own unique way. While playing in Philadelphia as a 76er, Chamberlain was the star of the town. The great hope for Philadelphia. However, it is often stated that Chamberlain felt he had outgrown the city and took his game out West to the bright lights of Hollywood where he would spend the duration of his NBA career as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
8 Dick Butkus
“Sweet home, Chicago.” … Just the mention of the name Dick Butkus and thoughts of The Windy City begin to formulate in the mind. The name is synonomous with the city of Chicago. Butkus may have only played nine season in the NFL but he certainly made a lasting impression, going down in history as one of the meanest and most feared linebackers to ever step foot on the gridiron. In a 2009 poll taken by NFL.com, Butkus was named the most feared tackler of all time. While heroes are not usually feared by the local citizens, Butkus breaks the norm.
7 Nolan Ryan
Nolan Ryan was about as good as they came on the mound, recording over five-thousand career strikeouts while pitching for four different teams. In Houston as a member of his hometown Astros, Ryan continued to build on a statistically-strong career, winning over the Houston faithful. Throughout the course of his record-setting career, Ryan would throw an unbelievable seven no-hitters. This is something most Major League pitchers cannot do once, let alone on seven different occasions. His pitches themselves would reach 100mph often times with ease. Nolan Ryan was a wild man on the hill and a wonderful ball player.
6 Rickey Henderson
The best leadoff hitter to ever play in Major League Baseball. Rickey Henderson could probably outrun most sports-cars. Holding the all-time record for stolen bases and runs scored. A former AL MVP, ten-time all-star, and two-time World Series Champion. Rickey Henderson may have packed his suitcase often and bounced around from city to city during his time in the big leagues but the magnetic “Man of Steel” was always drawn-in and pulled back home to Oakland where he would have four different stints as an Athletic. While Henderson was born in Chicago, he moved to, and grew up in, Oakland when he was two years old. I suppose you can go home again … and again … and again.
5 Pete Rose
Pete Rose, the controversial, banned-from-baseball, Cincinnati native has long been the focal point of barroom and basement discussions. “The Hit King,” is just that; the king of all hitters. Holding Major League Baseball's all-time hits record, “Charlie Hustle,” managed to play, successfully, five different positions during his time in MLB, acquiring three batting titles, an MVP award, and seventeen all-star appearances in the process. Hate him anywhere else in the world but not in Cincinnati. Pete Rose may be a disgraced ball-player but he is all theirs.
4 Lou Gehrig
The great Yankee legend, Lou Gehrig, whose life was taken too soon will forever be a hometown hero in New York City. “The Iron Horse” as he became known, once held Major League Baseball's record for consecutive games played. When Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS and forced to retire at the age of thirty-six, he would deliver his iconic “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech at the original Yankee Stadium. A speech which was not only eloquent but heartbreaking and beautiful. While the speech was delivered more than seventy-years ago, even in this day-and-age, to listen to the sincerity and emotion behind those words is gut-wrenching.
3 Paolo Maldini
Born in Milan and widely regarded as one of the greatest defenders of all time, Paolo Maldini spent his entire twenty-five-year career at Serie A club Milan. Playing in front of his hometown fans at a world class level and becoming a fixture and formidable face of Italian soccer. Maldini has pulled the Milan jersey over his head more times than any other player in the history of the club. So, it went without saying that Milan would retire his #3 shirt following his retirement from the game. Paulo Maldini now holds a rightfully earned spot in the Italian Football Hall of Fame.
2 Maurice Richard
Maurice Richard, the ultimate Montrealer. The best hockey player to ever dawn the bleu, blanc, et rouge. A physical player with a hidden hint of violence behind every play, Richard became the first player in NHL history to score fifty goals in a single season and five-hundred for a career. Richard helped form a Montreal Canadiens dynasty. He was nicknamed “The Rocket,” based on his speed, strength, and the way he would approach the opposing goaltender. In Montreal, Maurice Richard was close to being a God. The kind of player who could spark a riot because his emotional connection with the people of the city ran so deep.
1 LeBron James
Yeah, we all remember the ESPN special: “The Decision,” where James ever-so pompously announced that he would be bringing his talents to South Beach and playing for the Miami Heat. The backlash was harsh as the entire special was viewed as an unnecessary use of air time. And the city of Cleveland went insane, burning LeBron jerseys in the streets, cussing and crying and complaining that the mega-star was leaving town. James' decision to head down to Miami was almost sacrilegious. LeBron James was now the modern-day Judas in the city of Cleveland. But alas, their boy has come home, recently re-signing with the Cavaliers. All is forgiven for the prodigal son has returned.
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