I write this while observing and celebrating a major holiday. No, not Passover, that was four days ago, and not Easter either. I’m talking about Opening Day, which for some people is a religious holiday as well as an American one.
Baseball fans have greeted it with glad and grateful hearts for the last 120 years. For some, it’s the official start of the season, that is spring turning into summer and ending in the Fall Classic. It’s sentimental, nostalgic and reminiscent of simpler times.
No longer the diehard fan I was a decade ago when my hometown team was one of the best in baseball nine years in a row, I was only vaguely aware that Opening Day was upon us. But once I saw that the game was starting, I tuned in right away, online, to follow along with how they were faring.
In the first inning, one of the greatest players in the long and illustrious history of the team, who has been severely hampered by injuries the past few years and seems relatively healthy coming into this season, stepped up to the plate with a man on base in the midst of a blizzard.
We would pick a cloud out in the sky, and all stare at it, and gradually but surely, it would get smaller and less dense, until it was…
Oh, and did I mention he hails from the tropical climes of Venezuela?
Now in the twilight of his career, this former league MVP and Triple Crown winner (of which there are only 14 in the entire history of baseball), this slugger who enters the season just 13 homers shy of 500 (a plateau that only 27 others have reached), this great hitter who needs 140 hits to get to the esteemed number of 3,000 — regarded as a benchmark of the uppermost echelon of hitters — stood in the box in the freezing cold.
In his first at-bat of the new season, he blasted one over the fence, prompting me to text a friend and acknowledge that with each great at-bat, the legend of Miggy (short for Miguel) continues to grow.
I already had legends and heroes on my mind because a different friend had sent me a YouTube video of comedian Lou Costello (of Abbot & Costello) interviewing Depression-era heavyweight champ Max Baer in the ring after he had just knocked out a guy. Sitting next to Baer was the great Joe Louis, and the two fighters had their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders like buddies.
Take, for instance, this latest Relief Bill. The vote was split down party lines, with one side voting “yes” and the other side “no.” I wonder how those same members of Congress would have voted if 80% of their income was gobbled up by bills and the remaining 20% was barely enough to get by on?
In the body of the email, my friend remarked, “My new favorite American folk hero is Max Baer.” I pretty well knew what he was referring to, but the interviewer in me asked, “What in particular do you find heroic?”
Among the words and phrases my friend used to describe it were “kindheartedness,” “generosity,” “a softy in a pugilist’s body,” and “a ladies’ man who loved his wife and kids.” He said he was touched by how deeply distressed Baer would get if his opponent got seriously hurt in the ring, including the one guy who died from his punches, and how Baer would come to the aid of that boxer’s family in whichever ways he could.
He admired Baer for wearing the Star of David on his trunks when he fought the German champ Max Schmeling in glaring defiance of Hitler and anti-Semitism. Mostly, he was moved by the obvious and mutual affection, respect and appreciation between Max Baer and Joe Louis, as shown in the film clip, during the racially divided 1930s.
As tears continued to swell, a flurry of memories streamed through my consciousness – starting with the first house I lived in with my family, and the parents and older siblings who all played “Mr. Blue” on the hi-fi for me, and how smooth and comforting…
When we think of heroes, we tend to associate them with some dramatic event, like saving someone from a burning building, but to call someone “a folk hero” suggests a deeper penetration into our collective consciousness.
Some of our folk heroes were real people, some are fictional characters, but all of them embody higher ideals and a greater love — of humanity, justice, freedom … of life!
To embrace the grand adventure of life, and of living, is to embark on our own hero’s journey.
And as the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step so, too, the journey of a 162-game schedule and the hopes and dreams that go with it begins on Opening Day. Play ball!