Man of the House | Joe Torre proves worthy as a hero; 'real people' qualify, too
Something you should know right off the bat: In 1971, Joe Torre played third base for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. He led the National League in batting average and runs batted in. The Cardinals weren't good enough to finish first in the National League East Division, but Joe was an All-Star and was named the league's Most Valuable Player.
And in my eyes, he was the worthiest of heroes.
I turned 10 years old in the summer of 1971. That's a magical time for a kid. Part of the magic for me was baseball. I admired just about anyone who wore a Major League Baseball uniform -- especially the Cardinals. But my deepest admiration was for Joe Torre.
I never got close enough to him as a kid to ask for an autograph. I probably would have been speechless in his presence anyway.
More than 20 years later, I was a sportswriter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Torre was the manager of the Cardinals. I'll never forget the day I was sitting in his office at the ballpark. I had only recently been assigned more and more to cover big-league baseball. I was writing something about the Cardinals that particular day and overcame my shyness about being in Torre's presence; I was able to conduct the interview professionally and successfully.
I always will remember my smile and the thought I had while walking away from that office:
How lucky am I? I just got to find out firsthand that my boyhood hero is a nice man!
It has been said that children should acquire their heroes from fiction, because nonfiction might not have enough good people who would qualify. Nonetheless, as kids we all had people whom we admired, many of them professional athletes or celebrities of another sort.
I know, I know, those people often don't make the best role models. And generally, what I've learned from those with whom I have discussed this, they don't want their example to be followed so closely and personally by anyone, much less children looking for a "hero."
But I don't buy that there aren't enough "real people" who could qualify as heroes. Top-notch heroes for the youth of America should be parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, policemen and firemen and doctors and so many examples from the "real world."
Truth be told, many kids look up to those kind of people. Sadly, many of those heroes -- just like celebrity heroes -- eventually fall from grace as well. It's the human thing to do.
Felix Adler, the late Columbia University professor, once said: "The hero is the one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by. The saint is the man who walks through the dark paths of the world, himself a light."
I had other heroes as a boy -- ballplayers, politicians, astronauts. I didn't have a chance to meet many of them. Some of the ballplayers I did get to meet years later were good men, while some others didn't live up to the memories I had.
Hope as we might that young people and even many adults won't consider celebrities to be role models, America has to accept that it's an inescapable fact of life in our society. As long as there are ballgames and movies and TV shows, there will be people admiring those celebrities and wanting to act like them, dress like them, talk like them and aspire to their lifestyles.
Hey, I don't necessarily like it either, friends. I've got kids and a grandson, too.
So how do we find better role models? That should be the challenge we all embrace. If we ourselves openly admire and compliment certain behavior and people -- be they celebrities or the "regular folks" we meet every day -- that could have some influence. Real people who can make a real difference.
A few years after my first interview with Torre, I was in Tampa at the New York Yankees' spring training camp. Torre had become the Yankees manager. I approached him behind the batting cage, hoping to say hello and ask a few questions. Before I had a chance to say anything, Joe saw me, stuck out his hand to shake mine and said, "Mike, how are you?"
I was blessed. I got to find out that my greatest celebrity hero was all I thought he could be -- and more. Let's try to help our kids find similar heroes.
Eisenbath is a parishioner of St. Cletus in St. Charles. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his website at eisenbath.com.
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