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Sports, Heroes, and Saying “Good Bye”

Sports, Heroes, and Saying “Good Bye”

by Paul Semendinger

February 3, 2022

***

I really try to always look at the bright side. I really, really, really do.

There is so much good, all around, if we look for it.

But today, I’m feeling a bit melancholy because in my sports world things are changing, and changing so fast that the landscape, in some ways, at least, will never be the same.

Tomorrow (or the next day) I will write about the very real likelihood that Spring Training will now be delayed because of the lockout. This makes me angry and frustrated and very disappointed in Major League Baseball. This is just horrible and infuriating news.

But today, my thoughts and feelings are elsewhere… as the finality of a career hits home and a player, a great player, a players whose career will never be matched, says goodbye to his sport.

***

On Tuesday, Tom Brady announced his retirement from football.

My son Ethan’s favorite player in football is (was) Tom Brady. Brady’s career was so legendary and so great that he played until Ethan was 23-years-old. That’s amazing. It’s not often in one’s life that his sports hero from his youth plays until he is an grown adult.

How old were you when your sports hero retired?

My favorite player, as so many know, was Graig Nettles. I was 20-years-old when he retired, but it wasn’t the same. For me, Nettles’ career ended in the spring of 1984 when the Yankees traded him to the San Diego Padres. I was fifteen. Once Nettles was traded, all the way to California, I lost the ability to follow his career, except from afar. There were no Padres games on TV. There was no inter-league play. And back then, not even all the Mets games were televised. I enjoyed one last hurrah watching my baseball playing hero when the Padres reached the post season in 1984, but for all intents and purposes, it was all over.

And, after 1984, even if I saw him, Graig Nettles didn’t play much. He was relegated to pinch hitting duties. Nettles’ greatness had passed. Seeing one’s favorite player as a shell of the player he used to be is sad. In the end, when Nettles reached the Braves, I did see him occasionally as a bench player/pinch-hitter on SuperStation TBS.

But it wasn’t the same. That Graig Nettles wasn’t diving for line drives and hitting homers to win games for the Yankees – or any other team.

It wasn’t like that for Tom Brady and Ethan.

Ethan got to see his favorite player remaining at the top of his game. Right to the end. The very end. Ethan could also watch Tom Brady whenever he wanted. The Buccaneers were often on TV. Highlights were everywhere.

And Tom Brady was always in the post season.

And now it’s over.

And it hurts a little.

Even for me.

I’m sad that Tom Brady plays no longer.

When a player retires and goes away, it signifies the end of something special. When it’s your hero, or a player you love to watch, something inside goes missing. When that player was the hero of your youth, that missing element can never be replaced.

As we get older, as we mature, we don’t root for players or hold them in hero status like we do when we’re young. We just don’t. We become wiser. The magical, special, and somewhat undefined feelings we have for a player change. We can appreciate great players, but as we mature, the players are less superheroes and more just great athletes. Yeah, I rooted for Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera (three of my favorites) but I never loved them inside the way I loved Graig Nettles. I enjoyed watching Bernie and company. I admired their talents. I thrilled in their play and basked in their victories and championships, but I didn’t have the same emotions for them that I did for Nettles (or Guidry or Reggie or Thurman…)

Watching Tom Brady, Ethan had a special chance to root for a player and find a way to continue to keep and maintain that special feeling of childhood alive longer than most – that feeling of “He just has to win, he has to, he’s my hero.” A true fan of a player will understand.

Somewhere as we grow-up, we realize that these athletes are just people, but still somewhere inside as they still play, as our heroes continue to excel, we retain a small bit of our own childhood, the magic that comes from when we first begin rooting for a sport or a player or a team.

As Tom Brady retires Ethan now loses that little something.

And that makes me sad.

***

There is good news because through the magic of fatherhood, a dad can almost recapture those same feelings of awe and majesty and wonder through his children. I got to live those feelings until now, 53-years-old, through Ethan and Tom Brady, the last sports heroes from any of my sons’ childhoods to retire.

The way we root for teams and players and sports isn’t always logical, but it is special and it’s fun… and it’s wonderful. I loved rooting for Tom Brady with Ethan. I knew how magical and special it was for him to grow-up watching greatness.

As Brady walks away, I know that there’s am emptiness in Ethan’s sport’s heart that will never be filled. I feel it to, albeit differently.

Nothing lasts forever, but this almost seemed like it might.

I wonder (someday) if grandparents can find that same magic, one last time, rooting along with a grandchild for a favorite player for decades and decades….

I look forward to the days when I can find out.

#TomBrady

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