======= ======= ====== ====== ====== ===== ==== ====== ====== ===== ==== ======= ======= ====== ====== ====== ===== ==== ====== ====== ===== ====
Every year, the tail-end of Major League Baseball season brings predictable tidings. Exciting postseason races concluding, win-or-go-home games, and awards candidates making their final pushes.
It also brings fond farewells by players we’ve come to know so well. They’re either likely leaving their longtime ballclub, like Adam Jones and Adrián Beltré, or potentially hanging up the cleats for good, like David Wright and longtime Twins great Joe Mauer. These guys aren’t getting the cool postseason send-off like Chase Utley is with the Dodgers. No; they just got a simple farewell from a team whose fate had been decided weeks ago.
These bittersweet tidings make for great emotional viral videos. Seeing a guy who’s given years to a city and a team get his due via long standing ovation or curtain call can bring out emotion in even a casual sports fan. I mean, watch this:
Can’t fake that raw emotion, much like Joe Mauer (and every other Twins fan, like myself) couldn’t when this went down a couple weeks ago.
This had me choked up like he was my own father, and weirdly — in a few ways — he occupies a status somewhat similar to that.
Joe came up in 2004, right as the Twins were gaining steam as an AL Central powerhouse (and perpetual playoff disappointment) for the rest of the decade. Thirteen-year-old me instantly gravitated to him and he quickly became my favorite player. I tried to emulate him as much as I could. We were both catchers until we were forced to move from behind the plate later in our careers (Joe because of injuries, me because I wasn’t good) and I wore #7 on every team I could get it on.
At that age and younger, rooting for athletes is more than just really pulling for a guy. When you’re that young, your favorite players are giants; larger than life icons who dazzle you with every on-field feat. Usually you don’t know if they’ve got a bad rep off the field, or if their contract is killing the team; to you they’re simply your idol.
That idolization also came hand-in-hand with aspiration, as youthful ignorance still allowed you to carry that dream of being the next Joe Mauer, Emmitt Smith, or even a more tempered hope like being David Eckstein. Until a certain age, you just don’t reach that sense of realism that completely kills the thought in the back of your mind that says, “I want to be just like that guy.”
Rooting for guys as you get older — into your late teens and beyond — doesn’t quite have the same luster. As star athletes get closer to you in age, their mythical status slowly dissipates. This isn’t to say their athletic feats get any less impressive, but just to say that rooting for a guy like Mike Trout doesn’t quite carry the same weight of devotion considering we both graduated high school in the same year.
The older you get, your expectations also change. The sports heroes of your youth never had any limits. Every at-bat was the one they were hitting a bomb or each drop-back was going to lead to a TD pass, and each year was going to be better than the last. You could never fathom that your team would jettison your hero; why wouldn’t they just keep the guy forever, right?
As an adult, the blemish-free and idyllic career of anyone you cheer for gets torn down by realism. Simply reaching the age of the guys you’d considered someone to look up to kind of dulls the shine of fanhood. Being nine and watching with wonder as your team’s ace pitches brings out more awe than watching a dude with kids the same age as yours sling it on the mound.
Sure, it’s been great cheering for the exciting middle infielder who hits bombs and swipes bags for the past few years, but you’re also well aware that he’s about to hit arbitration and would serve better as trade-bait to restock the farm. Standing up and high-fiving someone every time your team’s Pro Bowl DE sacks the QB is fun, but the euphoria isn’t quite the same because you know he’s getting sued for unpaid child support off the field.
Childhood sports heroes could be anything you wanted them to be, like a Hall of Famer on and off the field who would never disappoint. That’s where Mauer’s potential retirement hits me the hardest; because he never did disappoint, even from my thirteen-year-old expectations. He never left the Twins, put together a Hall of Fame career (I’ll fight anyone who argues that), and somehow was even better off the field than he was on it.
Joe is my last childhood sports idol left. While things aren’t quite the same in any regard as they were when I’d tell all my middle school friends that the Twins were going to have the best catcher in baseball for the next decade, I can still remember that feeling. He’s an aging first basemen now, essentially my peer with regard to age group, and we’re both dads. But still there along with that sweet left-handed swing is the memories of watching his games on a big-ass box TV that weighed at least 100 pounds and expecting every AB to be a home run.
That isn’t to say that watching my favorite players leave the game before now didn’t — and doesn’t — sting. Listening to Romo on CBS every Sunday isn’t getting any easier, and I’m already mentally preparing myself for the fact that Byron Buxton won’t play forever. However, there’s just something about the culmination of a career that you’ve followed since before you were driving age that really tears you up in a different kind of way.
Your twenties are seemingly filled with bittersweet moments, and the retirement of your childhood athletic idols is right up there at the top of the list. Griffey Jr., MJ, Emmitt; gone from the playing field forever. After the sports heroes of your youth retire, to quote that dude from Friday Night Lights who made Mike Winchell take a picture with his kid, “It’s just babies and memories.” And hours of YouTube highlights for you to show your kid so you can tell him how great your heroes were..
Image via Wikimedia Commons