I still don’t know how to feel about it. In a little over 40 days’ time, I will make a large leap from an adolescent to an adult – at least from the perspective of the government. In my own thoughts, I still see myself as a kid.
In school, they often tell us 17-year olds on the cusp of adulthood that we will take on an enormous responsibility on the day we turn 18. On an anniversary, a day that usually connotes happiness, we will be assaulted by tasks, responsibilities, and, primarily, solace in singularity of existence, away from parents who have raised us to this point. I understand, acknowledge, and welcome my place as an independently functioning member of society as it is, but simultaneously, it will be a day of melancholic reminiscence to reflect upon a bygone childhood.
Maybe it is this certain period of vulnerability that caught me so when I read the most recent issue of ESPN the Magazine. My English teacher once told me I read sports-material “ad nauseum” but, to be quite honest, there are times I indeed feel nauseous about the subject of sports arguments. There are issues of Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Mag (to which I subscribe) that I don’t read because I’m either too busy or the material is already well-worn by podcasters, television hosts, and peer discussions. This issue, centered upon Cuba, emblazoned with oft-analyzed star YasielPuig, was one I thought I might not get to.
I left it on my bureau for a few days while I consulted Hemingway instead, wanting to drift into For Whom the Bell Tolls rather than read another prognostication about Puig’s upcoming season after a reckless driving arrest. I sat down on a lazy Sunday morning and gave myself 10 pages to try. I sifted through Le Batard and Keating, interested but unriveted. “The Fix” by Chris Jones is usually my favorite piece of the magazine and I read him nearly every issue, but I almost didn’t that day. I had school work and brotherly obligations and practice, but I wanted to finish the magazine.
This was the best decision I made that day.
I connected to the column, entitled Idol Thoughts, in every facet. (Okay, except for the part about Jay Cutler fandom – I still don’t get that.)
Jones loves Hemingway, just like I do. The analysis of Hemingway’s Spanish-English language hybrid as “clean and pure, muscular and vulnerable” gave me words to describe things that had previously stripped me of adjectives. I am a novice in Hemingway, having only started his works since 11th grade English introduced me to The Old Man and the Sea, but to read his accounts of his pursuit of his hero Hemingway – tracing his steps in Pamplona, France, Havana – was incredible. He writes, “Hemingway was, in so many ways, a terrible man. He was a human wrecking ball, leaving damage and dead animals and finally his brains in his wake. How could I admire a man like him?”
His Hemingway is my Varitek. Jason Varitek. He was my boyhood hero. He played my favorite position for my favorite team (Catcher, Boston Red Sox). I memorized his statistics, cheered loudest when he came to bat (whether from living room or the grandstands), wrote an essay in grade school about why he was my idol. JasonVaritek#33, for a long time, was the password on my computer. I thought he could do no wrong.
When, in 2009, one of my friends told me Varitek left his wife of 13 years after an affair with a Red Sox sideline reporter, I was crushed. I know, in today’s society, cheating and other means of infidelity are not as heinous as they used to be, but for me, it was a serious flaw – an egregious passed ball – he allowed in his character as a man and role model. I was 11, at the time, and I couldn’t understand. Why wasn’t he as good a man off the diamond as he was on? He had all the characteristics to be so. He played a tough position, well, no less, and led his team with pride and fought for his teammates like brothers.
I went through similar situations as I got older with Nomar Garciaparra and his steroid use. The same stands true for not just stars, but people in my life who were heroes. Older kids in school, parents of peers, and other adults I knew in the community and their choices: affairs, divorces, drugs – people I knew and formerly respected as a child. I grew up. I grew disillusioned. Perhaps, those things are directly proportional. I said to myself, these people have done great and wonderful things for me, yet how can I admire them now?
About Hemingway, Jones writes, “So I left Papa, just like that. I left my other heroes too. Maybe that’s part of growing up.” And maybe it is. Part of maturation is to learn, and sometimes not everything learned is worth remembering. Perhaps we’re supposed to outgrow our idols and blaze our own trails.
For Jones, who forsook Hemingway after becoming an established writer, he writes, “Maybe that’s only smart, that we would betray our heroes before they get the chance to betray us, the way they almost always do.” While that sentiment is cynical, it is not unfounded. By creating demigods of mortals, we purport tarnished bronze as gold; we create standards no one could ever fulfill.
They didn’t ask us to follow them – am I making something of nothing? I don’t think so. People in the public perception are aware of this (except The Truman Show) and they know they are role models. While I don’t think they are held to an eleventh commandment because of their stardom, I believe they should attempt to at least portray a life that can be exemplary.
That question: ‘how could I admire a man like him?’ is a universal query, posed to anyone who has ever served as an idol – because everyone is imperfect and, “You’ll realize that perfection is a lot to demand, especially from a stranger.” The only thing is they don’t feel like strangers, through their works (Hemingway) and performance (Varitek), I almost feel as if I knew them, if only a little.
It’s odd, what happens when people we look up to force us to look down upon them. We may never have known them personally, shaken hands and talked, but it’s still a foggy pain to see them fall. It’s still a disappointment to see them dragged down, and a knock upon their now-hollow reputation. All because heroes are unique, my role-model is one person because of something they did, but another person might idolize someone else for entirely different reasons. Even two people who have the same role model might admire them for different reasons – that’s why it’s such a blow to find out they’ve done something wrong; it’s that personal, individualistic connection.
Jones surmises how I felt, “Then you were disappointed, or you were embarrassed, or you decided that to be your own man, you couldn’t be caught in the shadow of another. You abandoned everything but what your precious peers might think of you. You took down your posters. You closed your books. You stopped listening. You went your own way.” Something that usually connotes such a positive entity of ‘going your own way’ is broached in such a negative perspective. Jones vividly describes a final expulsion of boyhood dreams and role-models when you close your books. It could take many different forms, a teary tantrum of ripping up baseball cards or the goodwill donation of a formerly-beloved jersey – and it was loved purely not because of the jersey – but because of the name embroidered on the back.
I can connect with the sudden loss of naïveté. As I am an impending adult, I look back at my first 17 years and realize that I, too, left heroes. Varitek, Garciaparra, adults whom I formerly held in the highest of regard – their actions used to cause my reactions, what they did I emulated.
“You’ll walk shamelessly through the streets of your own particular Havana one last time, and you’ll remember who brought you there in the first place, and when, and you’ll be so grateful that they did.”
This is the perfect conclusion of Jones’ essay. While any metaphorical role-model-esque statute of Garciaparra or Varitek may not have legs, they essentially provided me the passion for where I am. Varitek made me love the game, influenced me to play Catcher, and gave me a paragon through which I could see the right way to play the game. This, in turn, led me to my life’s greatest passions: writing and sports. In the same way, those adults gave me a foundation for how to lead a happy life the right way. Though they may have lost their way, they brought me to here. In perspective, I am on the eve of the beginning of my adult life. Up until this moment we have been formed based upon whose opinions into which we give stock.
Yet, that’s just what it’s like: buying stock. Sometimes you hit a goldmine that makes you wealthy for a lifetime; other instances lead you to bankruptcy. Maybe it’s the company’s fault, maybe it’s ours. We blame them for going out of business, when maybe it’s really our fault for betting too big.
In a way, we are stock brokers. When we close our accounts and get out of Wall Street, we can reflect. The wins will be forgotten and the losses will still sting. The money lost overshadows the money made. We will think back to when we got our first dollar to invest, our first baseball card. We were just too silly and naïve to realize it then on our first trade, but there are no stocks that only rise. We will only realize that fact afterwards and, though it was a tidal wave barrage of crests and troughs, our lives wouldn’t have been the same without them.
And maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.