In his book 700 Sundays
, Billy Crystal remarks that he finally felt
like an adult the day that his boyhood hero Micky Mantle died. Six years
ago, I had a similar experience: as the Pittsburgh Pirates prepared to open
for their home opener, Hall of Famer and personal boyhood
died, far too young and far too full of potential for
good. The event prompted me to go for a physical, and I found that I was
inhabiting a body that checked out ten years older than I was. It was the
event that spurred me to take the hockey gear out of the basement, throw
away the stuff that was too small, moldy, or fabricated from hazardous
materials, and lace up to play ice hockey again. It re-ignited my love
affair with the number 8, Willie Stargell's number, the twin circles
that made snowmen on the back of every jersey for which I had been able
to pick the number.
Five months later, my 9-11 birthday went from a date I shared with
Julius Caesar to one I shared in observance with most of America.
33 years ago, my parents took me to the other ballpark in Pennsylvania
(Veterans Stadium) to watch the Pirates play, so that I could get a
glimpse of Willie Stargell. The Pirates were in between World Series
runs, and while we had a great time, it wasn't until I was in my
senior year of high school that I saw the healing power of sports.
Willie Stargell led his racially and emotionally diverse Pittsburgh
Pirates to the World Series title in 1979, with the old Three Rivers
Stadium bouncing to Sister Sledge's "We Are Family," a song that
came to represent the team unity that started with captain Stargell.
This year, I got to celebrate my birthday with some of Sun's global
government and education systems engineers as well as a few customers
at the new PNC Park. We walked in by the statue of Willie Stargell,
as large as he must have seemed in real life, and then found our
seats just past the food court that features "Chicken on the Hill"
(a reference to the restuarant Stargell ran in the off-season) and
"Fam-i-lee BBQ", a less oblique nod to the 1979 World Champions. My
dinner won't help this year's annual physical report, but I savored,
literally, every moment to celebrate in the shadow of a hero.
With my birthday nestled on the calendar between the unofficial end
of the Jersey summer on Labor Day, and the official start of spiritual
accounting marked by the Jewish New Year, I prefer to see 9-11 as a
day on which to take stock of opportunity. What can I do more of, do better,
or do differently? What's the scope of "We are Family" in 2007?
Something to think about delayed for four hours in the Pittsburgh airport.