Is anyone who can hit a baseball 500 feet, or throw it 100 MPH, or make a breath taking catch, a hero no matter what else?
I am so damn depressed thinking about what I should do if a 300 hundred pound plus slugger, Miguel Sano, who tried to shove a vulnerable aspiring young lady photographer literally about 1/3 his size into a bathroom and sexually assault her, is let off with a slap on the wrist. Why is Kirby Puckett still remembered with reverence round here even though it is publicly known that he repeatedly abused and terrified his wife and daughter, while also assaulting other vulnerable victims of choice. Why could I, at least until recently, conjure up a tear in my eye when I remember his breath taking, game saving, series saving, catch in game six of the 91 World Series? Is fandom not just a very human irrational self indulgence but a self indulgent perversity?
So how do you denounce the worst and still remain a fan? You celebrate the best.
Who is your favorite player on your team – not as an athlete but as a human being? Whose story will help you overlook that baseball is a multi billion dollar entertainment industry, peopled by all types of people, good, bad and in between, when you settle in on a splendid summer evening to root root for the home team.
Here is mine. Surprise surprise.
2004 – 2006, when Joe Mauer was breaking through as a major leaguer, I opened and managed a group home caring for young adults and teenagers with mental retardation and the most “challenging behaviors” in Anoka County, Minnesota. “Challenging behaviors” is a euphemism if there ever was one. The chemical brain in-balances which are responsible for mental retardation are often accompanied by schizophrenia, bi polar disorder, autism, you name it. In extreme cases, several times a week, these normally beautiful wonderful human beings are overcome by the terror of their disorder(s) and attempt to hit, bite, pull the hair of, and spit on their caretakers. Their caretakers are trained in all cases to protect them by all means possible but never in anger, which is a firing offense. If in the final frustrations of the episode, while you have them protectively pinned to the floor, they bang their head against the floor, it is hoped that you will attempt to place your hopefully somewhat fleshy and soft forearm between their head and the floor to cushion the blows. Cold hands warm hearts.
It is difficult to find people who will walk that path, but I was lucky. Many of my staff were recent graduates of Cretin Durham High, Joe’s high school. They graduated but a few years after Joe and remembered, with envy, and admiration, a teenager who was arguably the greatest athlete in the history of a school whose alumnus include Paul Molitor, several NFL players and other MLB players (and BTW Bugs Moran). He was one of the top 5 amateur baseball prospects in the country and received a full scholarship offer to play quarter back from perennial national championship contender Florida State. He could easily have laid claim to emperor of the kool kids club. Instead when he heard about a mentally retarded girl attending his school who was being constantly picked on and teased he made a point of eating lunch with her every day because nobody would dare mess with someone sitting with Joe Mauer, and at the same time send the message that if anybody decided to mess with her at some time other than lunch, they best hope that Joe Mauer doesn’t hear about it. A cold bat sometimes? That’s okay, always a warm heart.
I like to think that some of the gold I was able to mine from the hearts of my staff was at least indirectly put there by Joe Mauer.
Come on everybody. I know that there are many fine human beings and therefore many fine writers that frequent this site. Spring training has not yet commenced, it’s frigging cold outside and Yu Darvish is still playing Hamlet. Cold hands warm keyboards.