Aging? Or merely classic?
This Friday, April 12th, I am going to turn 28-years-old. So, Happy Birthday to me!
But seriously, I find it very strange, and somewhat amazing, that here I am, 'A grown-ass man,' as Cedric The Entertainer might say, at 28 years old. When I was in college hanging out with The Captain, I could not even imagine 25. I thought that would be so old, that I had no clue what I would be doing. Now that I am 28, you know what, it does not feel so old. I look in the mirror, and I still see the same old blue-eyed, ever lovin' kid. I look around at my friends-The Captain, No Chance, The Notorious L.M.G., and we are still some good looking guys; they do not seem old to me. The thing that makes me feel, not really old, but definitely older, is ESPN, or to be more specific, ESPN Classic.
When The Notorious L.M.G. was growing up, he rooted hard for the '86 Mets, with Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. The Captain grew up here in Kentucky, rooting on Roger Harden and Kenny Walker. No Chance was a Long Island boy, who lived and died with the master of the play-action fake, Kenny O'Brien. These were the guys whose posters were on their bedroom wall. These were not simply players, they were heroes, They were who we wanted to be. These guys, obviously, do not play anymore, unless on the aforementioned ESPN Classic, and as heroes go, they seem further away all the time. When Darryl Strawberry is on the news being arrested for drugs, I know it diminishes the memories of him for my friend. And when you hear Kenny Walker on WVLK 590 talking about the UK game, The Captain realizes how long it has been since he actually played the game. No Chance does not even know what Kenny O'Brien is doing right now, but I am sure he will try to look it up soon. Sometimes it does not seem like we ever grew up, but our sports heroes, they grew old, and they are trying to drag us along with them.
For me, the first sports heroes I had were Johnny Bench and Pete Rose. I caught the tail end of The Big Red Machine, and I remember Pete Rose going to the Phillies and the Expos before returning to Cincinnati. I also remember when Johnny Bench retired, and how I was mad the retirement ceremony was not on television.
The next wave featured the guys that I wished I could be, the guys whose posters I had on the wall. Ryne Sandberg of the Cubs was, in my opinion, the greatest 2nd baseman of all time. I was constantly scanning the sports section to make sure he was always at the top, so he could make the All-Star game ahead of chumps like Tommy Herr. Eric Davis was on my wall also. He was probably the most exciting baseball player I ever watched. He could hit home runs, he could steal home runs, he could, well, he could do anything.
Last but not least, was the punky QB Jim McMahon. I did not even play football, but he was cool, the coolest athlete ever. When I grew up, this was who I was going to be, no doubt about it. Throw in a few more guys as the years passed-guys like Andre Dawson, Barry Larkin, Joe Montana, Magic, and Michael Jordan-and these were my guys. These were my heroes.
Then, Ryne Sandberg retired, twice. He started off the 1994 season playing poor, batting close to .200, and everyday I checked the papers, waiting for him to snap out of his slump. He never did, so he retired. He came back for the 1996 and 97 seasons, but it was not the same. He played a while longer, but all he had was the power; the average had gone. He should be up for the Hall of Fame in a few years, and I think he will make it. Eric Davis became mortal. He had injuries, left the Reds after the 1991 season, and then came back for 1996, and left again. Then he had colon cancer. He left the game for a year and got well, and by all accounts beat the disease. He finished out playing for the Cardinals and the Giants, a role player far from the legend he started out as.
Jim McMahon played for a laundry list of teams before retiring, but never again reached the heights he reached with the Bears. You know what though-he is still cool. Magic acquired HIV, Michael retired, came back, retired, came back, and is now on the injured list of the Washington Wizards, barely even an NBA team. They grew old, and another crop of guys came up in the leagues. They were good, exciting, and cool, but they were not my heroes. The time for my heroes had passed.
I catch myself watching a game on ESPN Classic sometimes, and I laugh at how different the games looked even less than 10 years ago. It is a shock to see how much things have changed since I was a teenager. When you watch sports every day, every year, you do not notice this change. Just like when you live your life and talk to the same friends every day, you do not notice that maybe you have all grown up. Maybe we really are adults now. I hope not. I think I still have some good years left in me.
So, what will I do this week of my birthday? I know I am not going to play for the Cubs, but I do have a softball game on Thursday. I am not going to UK to play for Tubby Smith, but I will play some pickup basketball over at Cassidy Elementary with my friends. Our sports heroes may make us feel older, but sports can keep us young. Our heroes did not just leave us memories, but they left us the love of the game. The dreams that come with watching sports may be slowly leaving, but the love is still strong. So, if you see me out, wish me a Happy Birthday, and be sure to tell me how young I look. Just because Michael Jordan is old, does not mean I have to be old too.
Faris will participate in the Dizzy Bat contest, opening day at the Lexington Legends game, April 11. Cheer him on; buy him a birthday beer.
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