Like most kids, I emulated the heroes of my youth. The jingle told me to be like Mike, and I did my best to comply. I wanted to sink the game-winning shot with the eyes of the world upon me. But while in the backyard, long before the Gatorade jingle, I imitated a different star. I wanted to be like Darryl.
Often with my mom or sister, sometimes with a friend, I’d take the bat and align myself opposite of my natural swing, at the left side of the plate. With the bat low at my side, I’d parrot the quick, powerful wrists that resulted in the swing of Darryl Strawberry. I’d usually swing and miss.
Recently I heard Strawberry speak. He took the stage at the Holiday Inn Executive Center as the keynote speaker of Mizzou Baseball’s First Pitch Ceremony. For 45 minutes I listened to the now wrinkling star speak of a troubled childhood, of abusing cocaine, and of eventually finding God. His main premise: “Don’t chase the skirt.” He said the phrase approximately 32 times.
I greatly enjoyed this experience, but not as much as I should have. One would think I would be awestruck when I shook the hand of a hero of my youth. I should have melted when I felt the strength that produced 335 homeruns. But for some reason, it was a little lackluster.
I realize now that I lionized these athletes. Strawberry became an immortal in my young eyes, but he is human. Indeed, the hand I shook revealed normal flesh, and the story I heard was full of human vulnerabilities. He is another beating heart, and is imperfect like all of us (except my mother). The neighbors next door have faults, I have faults—my wife constantly reminds me—and our heroes have faults. Now that I finally realize this, I’m beginning to see things slightly differently.
Maybe I shouldn’t build athletes and celebrities up so much. Maybe then I wouldn’t be as disappointed when, time after time, their flaws are exposed, and their worlds come crashing down. I should value specific attributes—work ethic and dedication among them—but I shouldn’t expect perfection.
The thought leads to more questions than answers. After all, if perfection doesn’t exist, who should I emulate? And should a person strive for perfection in an imperfect world?
I don’t have the answers to these questions. Life isn’t as simple as I’d like it to be. I only try to remind myself that I don’t have to try to be like Mike. I don’t have to be like Darryl or Tiger either. As my mom would say, I should just try to be a better human being. With all my faults, that will be hard enough.