February 24, 2020

The Meaning Behind the Number

August 26, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

“You keep playing… you never stop. Not until they tear the jersey from your back do you give up.” – Anonymous

A friend once told me this when we were talking about his baseball career. His time was almost up. He’d been in the minor leagues for far too many years with no signs of advancing or improving. His mental game was diminishing and I could hear it in his voice everyday we talked. I tried my best to instill some type of hope in his mind. I made sure he knew that no matter what he’d have my support no matter what he does. We started talking about life after baseball and he said the only way he’d stop was literally when no one else would give him a jersey to wear. We’d known each other for 6 years at that point. I knew his lucky number, he wore it on his back. We talked a lot over the years about bribing other players so that he could have that number. That number immortalized this ballplayer. Whether I saw it at the time, an address, a phone number, or on another ballplayer… no matter what the case, I always thought of him. Those 2 digits were as much a part of him as was his last name.

A common trend among athletes is specific jersey numbers. It says a lot about who they are—as a player and person—and they view it as a non-verbal representation of themselves to the public. Players all over have different reasons for choosing the numbers they wear, whether it be to honor an idol, add mental stability for themselves, or to represent the position they play. Ballplayers throughout the major, minor, and collegiate leagues have a reason for wearing the number on their back, even if that reason is just because they accept the number their coach gives to them.

Sometimes no name is needed. The number says it all.

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve asked a few of my friends in the Major Leagues, Minor Leagues, and even College and High School ballplayers, if their jersey number had any type of significance to them or if they had a lucky number they preferred to wear. What I found was that each person’s reasoning really defined who they are, and more so, it showed how their particular jersey number helped differentiate themselves from the players next to them everyday at the ballpark. Here are the responses I received:

#7 Chris Dickerson (Milwaukee Brewers, Outfielder)
“My favorite number is because of [Ken Griffey] Junior and it’s a retired number so I’m stuck with 21, haha.” He followed up by saying, “24 and 7 were my favorite numbers. I still have 24 in somewhere in all my screen names or whatever the case. Lucky number 7 and 24. I guess I use to think about sports 24 hours a day 7 days a week,”

(I asked Chris this when we was still with the Reds before the trade that sent him to Milwaukee and Jim Edmonds to the Reds. Chris now wears #7 with the Brewers.)

#31 Matt Jernstad (New York Yankees, Minor Leagues, Pitcher)
“I like the number 31 because since I started wearing that number I have been fortunate enough to pitch great and then get signed by the [white] sox, and then after the sox I went back to 31, did great again and now I’m a Yankee. After a while it starts to become a part of who you are, people know you by your name and if they don’t, they know your number.”

#36 Randy Wells (Chicago Cubs, Pitcher)
“I love the number 27 and have had it my whole career til my rookie year with the Cubs. They gave me 36- and ask a rookie- its forbidden to ask for a number change. So 36 it is, now it’s my new favorite.”

Kendall Paluch (Loras College, Pitcher)
“Every season I try to get the same jersey number because it reminds me of all the achievements/goals I have already accomplished with it. With that, I feel the need to ass onto that list with every new season I have with it. If I get a new number I see it as a sign of starting over with new goals.”

#24 Marlon Byrd (Chicago Cubs, Outfielder)
“There’s two reasons I wear 24. Willie Mays and Gary Pettis.”

#24 Daryle Ward (Former MLB Outfielder/DH)
“It has to have a good sound to it when the announcer says your name. I think about how it would sound then I make my choice. That’s what it means to me. It has to sound good and be double digit.”

#17 Matt Morse (UAB, Shortstop)
“It is always an honor to wear the jersey number that many great players have worn before you, but for me personally I have worn the #17 for the past 10 years, so I continue to wear it today. I originally chose it because I felt it was a Shortstop’s # and it has grown on me more and more.”

#37 Chris Carpenter (Chicago Cubs, Minor Leagues, Pitcher)
“37 is my favorite number. 10 was my lucky number in high school and in college it was the coaches number, so 3 and 7 equal 10 and I figured it’s the next best thing.”

#5 Andy Lane (Former Cub/National)
“I wore number 5 because I wanted to be like the players that wore it and because of the way they played the game. Players like Joe DiMaggio and George Brett played the game the way it was suppose to be played.”

#2 Mike R (College Pitcher)
“Well, I usually wear 2 because it represents leadership because of Jeter… but now on my team I just let the coach to pick my number because a number is a number. It doesn’t mean I’m gonna have an important role on the team, that’s the only thing that i care about.. to play and contribute to a successful team.”

#58 Drew Storen (Washington Nationals, Pitcher)
“I actually didn’t pick my number so next year I’ll probably change it. But I usually like picking skinny numbers so I don’t look skinny in my jersey. But with #58, I’m not helping myself too much… I like mulitple numbers. I was 1 in high school and 26 in college and I feel like I need to turn the page and move on to different ones. Not to mention a pitcher can’t be #1.”

#51 Michael Garciaparra (Houston Astros, Minor Leagues, 2B)
“Well basically I haven’t had one number professionally but myself, brother, and both sisters wore the number 5 for most of our lives. I started changing it up since my brother had the #5 and didn’t want to use his number. The number 5 was pretty much a family number and my dad use to be #5 whenever he played sports so the number just kind of stuck around with all of us. I would change my number sometimes during the season if I felt the number had run out if hits sometimes too.”

When I played softball growing up, I always wanted #34. In slumps, I questioned it’s luck, but I always insisted on getting that number. I was a shortstop with the highest number on the field, but I didn’t care. The first Cubs game I went to, Kerry Wood pitched and I saw him strike out 20 batters, shaking coming off the field. It was magic to me each time I put on the jersey. To this day, I’m drawn to the number. Most of my favorite ballplayers don the number and all of my emails, usernames, etc have the #34 somewhere in them (like Chris).

When I look back at pictures from my playing days, I feel that the number itself was as important as my name above. Without one the other just wouldn’t look right. I still have all my old jerseys, all #34, except for one from when I was in 7th grade that has the #7 on the back. That year I hit my first home run, not because it went over the fence, but because I was fast enough to beat the outfielder. I have so many memories from my 14 years of playing…. From the thousands of car rides with my dad to games, all the injuries I endured at shortstop, tasting dirt sliding into home, early morning practices, and 4 games-a-day weekend tournaments….. In each one of those memories, I’m wearing #34.

While the number on the back is important to most of the players mentioned in this article, not one would choose it over the name on the front of the jersey.

Keep living The Baseball Life,

Disclaimer: All of the quotes mentioned above were given to me personally by said player. None are out of context, and each player was asked the exact same question. Thank you to all the participated!


3 Responses to “The Meaning Behind the Number”
  1. Mike Lynch says:

    I love this article, Steph. Numbers have always been important in my baseball life, especially the number 8, which belonged to my all-time favorite player, Carl Yastrzemski. I’ve always tried to get 8 whenever I played and I’m happy to say that I have it this year in my 35+ baseball league. I’m a pitcher, so 8 is a little low, but what the heck!

  2. Norm Coleman says:

    I enjoyed this piece. My favorite player, when I was a kid, growing up in Brooklyn
    was Pee Wee Reese. He wore (I believe) #1…
    In my Ty Cobb show, when asked what # he (Cobb) wore when he played, he said, “players didn’t wear #’s in those days, but if they did, I would have worn 23, because I read my bible daily and the 23rd psalm was my favorite.”


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