“Today I consider myself to be the luckiest FAN on the face of the earth!” ~ baseballrebecca, 3/28/2011
Yesterday started out pretty badly. However, two baseball-related events improved my day dramatically. First, I finally remembered to stop by the stadium and get my free Bowie Baysox car magnet. Second, I took the afternoon off to meet my hero.
There are sports moments that fans remember as standing out above others. For me, these include the last game at Memorial Stadium, the time I cut class to drive 7 hours to see my Orioles play in Toronto, The Streak, Spring Training 2011, and the time I met Cal Ripken, Jr.
He was signing autographs at a book store in Washington, DC, as part of a multi-city promotional tour for his new book, Hothead, a young adult novel about, naturally, baseball. I’ve never ditched work for baseball before, at least not without appropriate notice, but I just had to meet my hero. In my younger days, I’d gone to other autograph events, but this one was truly amazing.
Cal was smiling the entire time. It didn’t matter if he was signing autographs for young kids, middle-aged women, or elderly gentlemen. He took time to shake everyone’s hand, and ask them how they were doing. He didn’t just scrawl his name and silently scream, “Next!” Even though there were rules – no additional autographs, no personalized autographs, make sure your book is open to the right page, etc., etc. – it was an incredibly enjoyable and memorable experience. Cal especially took time to talk with his younger fans, despite the best efforts of the staff to keep him on schedule.
There are probably hundreds of sociological treatises on the meaning of hero. Some have argued that “celebrity” and “hero” are not the same thing. And after 9/11, of course, it was noted that Americans finally knew the true meaning of the word hero, and it had nothing to do with sports. However, theories of sport and community argue that sports and athletes are important in society because they represent particular communities, foster a sense of community spirit, and bring notoriety to the city or town in which they are played. Thus, Cal Ripken is so beloved because not only does he represent the community of fans and the city of Baltimore, but because he truly cares about the game and represents what we see as good about it.
So, whether you prefer the term “hero,” “role model,” or “all around good guy,” in my opinion, Cal Ripken, Jr., is all of them.