Ghosts of our past.

Ghosts of our past…

Close your eyes. Think back to when you were maybe 9 or 10 years old. What was the one thing that you really cared about more than anything else? The one thing, that if you went more than a day or two without it, you would go absolutely bonkers? The one thing that you never got tired of talking about? The one thing you and your friends could debate over and over again over the course of months and even years? The one subject that you could actually have a discussion with people older than yourself, such as an uncle, or even your father (or mother as the case may be…), and be able to make a convincing argument, and perhaps even emerge from that argument victorious?

 If you are like most guys, you will understand that I am talking about sports. Be it baseball, football, basketball, hockey, or any other sport, this might be your world. It certainly was mine. I had mentioned in a previous blog (read: Disillusionment) about how I would lie in wait on a summers day for Newsday to show up at our door at around 10AM, and I would pounce like a hungry man on a steak to get my little hands on the sports section. And at about the same time, my friends, who were addicts like myself, would show up and devour the scores and stats from the previous day’s action, and then the debates would begin! The day was starting to heat up, and there was the sweet smell of honeysuckle and Coppertone in the air. Also in the air was the smell of chlorine from our swimming pool, which promised a different kind of paradise for later in the day. This was our world in the mid-to-late 1970’s, and it was full of youthful innocence and wonder and hope. We really had no worries. We were fed. We had a place to sleep. We (most of us) had our parents to provide for our needs. We had our friends. And, we had our dreams. For me, aside from the occasional cute girl from school that I saw at Jones Beach, my dreams were almost always about sports. Those were great times, and I would not trade them for anything, and this addiction and love of sports is still with me today. The basics are still all pretty much the same, although I didn’t end up marrying any of the the cute girls from the beach, I ended up with a woman who is much more to me than any beach babe could ever be…and she is also a sports fan (she is a Buffalo Bills and a Montreal Canadiens fan, but you can’t pick who you fall in love with…)!

 Here’s the next question. In those days of your youth, who were your heroes? Aside from the P.C. answers of mom or dad or the President of the United States (Jimmy Carter??? I think not!), who did you really admire? Who was it that you wanted to read about every day? Who’s vital statistics and career did you have memorized? Who was on the posters that plastered your bedroom walls? Besides the famous picture of Farrah Fawcett in the red bathing suit, my walls were plastered with pictures of my sports heroes. There were pictures of Greg ‘The Bull’ Luzinski, Frank Tanana, Carlton ‘Pudge’ Fisk, Bobby Nystrom (even though I am a Rangers fan), Ken Stabler, Fred Lynn, and many more.

 I started to wonder if today’s youth hold the same reverence for the sports heroes of today as we did then? Do they have the same sense of wonderment when they meet a professional ball player? I remember going to summer camp when I was 6-7 years old, and meeting Jim Beauchamp of the Mets. We thought that it was the most amazing thing in the world if we physically touched any part of him! If he shook your hand, you were a camp legend! The same thing went for meeting Duffy Dyer, Ken Boswell, and Jerry Grote. These men were like the Greek Gods come down from on high Olympus to favor us with their very presence. And actually going to a game? Picture in your mind’s eye the very first time that you walked from the car with your dad, your mom, your grandfather, or whoever, through the parking lot of a professional sports arena. Got it? Ok. Now remember what it was like standing in the line to get in. You clutched your ticket in your hand so tight, that if it had a pulse, you would have strangled it. Remember? Now, you have gotten past the ticket taker (there were no security bag checks back then…), and went in to the inner recesses of the stadium, and you eventually made it to a number on a wall that matched the number on your ticket, and under the big number on the wall was an archway that you were supposed to walk through. You took as deep of a breath as you could, savoring the smell of the hot dogs and the popcorn, the peanuts and Cracker Jacks, and the anticipation of what was to come. You looked up at whoever brought you to this cathedral, and that person invariably always said, ‘Are you ready? Here we go!’, almost as if you were going to play the game yourself, and in you went. The hallway leading from the outside of the main arena/field to the inside was generally only about 15-20 feet, but it was a long walk. So you make it to the end, and you are faced with the most awesome, beautiful, amazing, super-cala-fragilistic-expialadocious sight you have ever beheld….the field! In that moment, you died and went to heaven! You saw the massive expanse of the field, with its varying shades of emerald green. You saw the perfectly straight, clean white chalk lines, the perfectly manicured infield, and the bright yellow of the foul poles…and you saw the huge scoreboard, and heard the organist playing his ballpark tunes. If a bomb went off in your pocket at that very moment, you would not have noticed, nor would you care if it did. And then, it happened…You noticed that there were players on the field! They were only warming up, either playing long-toss, or running sprints, or stretching, or just talking to each other, but it did not matter. These were your gladiators, your supermen, your idols, getting ready to do battle on the most amazing battlefield ever! You recognized the uniforms and numbers, and you knew who was stuffed into them. And in a loud voice, you pointed them out. If you smiled any wider, your face would have probably shattered…

 Sigh…what about today? I ask again if today’s youth still hold the same sense of amazement and respect for the athletes of today and the traditions of The Game that we had held back then? It would be sad if they didn’t. Those ghosts from my past haunt me in a good way. They remind me that there was, at one time, a world that wasn’t so jaded, so skeptical, so full of over-hype. Yes, we had our snake-oil salesmen (Crazy Eddie, anyone?), but we knew it. Today, it is all so slick, so homogenized and pasteurized, so politically correct, that I wonder to myself if there is any room for our sons and daughters to create their own heroes, and have the same sense of amazement that we did? Truthfully, I don’t think so. You see, the kids of today are worldlier than we were back then. They have been exposed to more of everything, both good and bad. They have a world that has 24/7 ESPN, CNN, MTV, among countless others. The kids of today don’t remember what it was like to change the channels manually on a TV dial (what is a TV dial?). They have never known a world without the internet, without Facebook or Twitter or Yahoo, or Instagram. When we were kids, computers were the stuff of movies and secret governments. We had no concept of a cell phone, and what is this thing called a blog?…While I agree that many of our professional athletes are hardly deserving of the accolades that they claim are theirs, to a kid, these are still the Greek Gods of Olympus. They are the role models (sorry Charles Barkley…) for our next generation. In spite of the boorish behavior, the self-promotion, the arrests, the drugs, the over-exposure, and all of the negative things that we despise, those are the conditions that prevail today. Kids will always look up to professional athletes. I just don’t think that they are viewed in the same light, or for the same reasons.

 My point that in a world where today’s kids have so much more exposure to so many more things, and there are so many influences, both good and bad, are being rammed down their throats almost non-stop, do they have an room to just be kids? Is there any time for them to sit around on a lazy summer morning and debate box scores and batting averages with their friends? Is there a place where they can go and play Whiffle ball until the sun goes down? Or have they become victims of the advances and conveniences of today’s world? It seems to me that they spend more time playing on their computers or cell phones, or they barricade themselves in their homes, glued to the latest and most violent and outrageous video game out there. It seems like there is no more room for heroes, at least not in the classic sense. It reminds me of an old episode of the original ‘Star Trek’. The episode was called ‘Who Mourns for Adonais?’. Toward the end of the episode, when the crew of the Enterprise is once again on the verge of victory, there is an exchange between Captain Kirk, and the soon-to-be-defeated apparition the Greek God Apollo…

Apollo: ‘I would have cherished you, cared for you. I would have loved you as a father loves his children. Did I ask so much?’

Capt. Kirk: ‘We’ve outgrown you. You asked for something we can no longer give’.

 Very soon after that, the Apollo character cries out, ‘”The time has passed. There is no room for gods.”, and he spreads himself onto the winds and disappears. Immediately after that, Dr. McCoy says to Captain Kirk, ‘I wish we hadn’t had to do that, Jim’. Captain Kirk replies, ‘I know, but I wonder if it would have hurt us to gather just a few laurel leaves…’. It is a sad exchange, but somehow relevant to this blog today. Will our kids of today’s world have room for heroes from the sports world, or is there no more room for them? I sincerely hope that there is, so that in some years down the road, they can sit with the next generation and reminisce about their ghosts of their past.

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