|A hero at 8 ... or 38|
By Tim Keown
Page 2 columnist
Puberty ends the hero thing. It's just a personal opinion, but a sports hero is something you have as a kid, before you know about free agency and restraining orders and illegal supplements. It's a basic form of idolatry, loving someone for being able to do something you know you'll never be able to do.
But enough preaching. The way I see it, the point of the whole hero exercise is to choose someone as a child who can retain those heroic characteristics until long after you've outgrown heroes. In other words, someone you can call your hero -- to complete strangers, if asked -- with your head held high and a proud snap to your voice.
Someone like Roberto Clemente. As a kid growing up in California, I was crazed for every sports team from my native Pittsburgh. The Pirates, the Steelers -- damn, I'd even check out the Pipers in the ABA standings every morning.
Pittsburgh was the infatuation and Clemente the hero. At 8 years old, I walked to the plate in what passed for Little League in my town (Fly League, they called it, and don't ask) rolling my neck every which way. I didn't even have any muscles in there, but I was making sure they were loose. Hey, it worked for Roberto ...
I stood deep in the batter's box, feet not even shoulder width apart, and went at the ball with the most god-awful hitch you've ever seen on an 8-year-old. Hey, good enough for Roberto ...
I was a catcher, but once a year I'd ask to play right field, becoming the first 8-, 9- or 10-year-old in history to want to be in right field, even if they didn't let me. Hey, good enough for Roberto ...
I remember waking up Dec. 31, 1972, and the announcer saying, ".... the airplane crashed heading for Nicaragua with relief supplies." I was 8, so I cried. My father tried to comfort me by saying, "He died helping people."
By quirk of birthplace, I chose the right hero, one that works at 8 or 38.