all of the selves we Have ever been
Joe Morgan died this week.
The headline popped up on my web browser home page.
There are some who looked at that headline and said, “Who?” Others may have seen the news and thought, “Who cares?” Me? I was pierced by sadness. I immediately emailed my best friend from high school with the news. I knew she would understand.
They were young, and so were we. They were major league baseball players. We were high school students. They took the field. We took our seats in the stands--as often as we could.
We were all in the middle of something.
My friend and I lived in Pittsburgh. We were Pirates fans. The 1970s was a great decade for baseball in the tri-state area. The Pirates and the Reds were both powerful teams and fierce competitors. It was the Lumber Company versus the Big Red Machine. We watched the greats like Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and Bob Robertson go toe-to-toe and bat-to-bat with Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, and Johnny Bench. When the Reds came to town, it was guaranteed excitement. Sometimes the heat of competition spilled over into a brawl on the field.
Joe Morgan was particularly memorable. Stepping up to the plate, bat in hand, his back arm bent and flapping like a wing, Joe was part eagle about to take flight. His stance was twitchy, like the ball was already out of the park, and Joe was late for his date with home plate.
My friend and I saw a lot of games. We saw many young men hurl their first major league pitches and step up to the plate for their first swing at bat. Not all of them rose to greatness in the history of the game. Not all of them stand out in our memories. Some, like Joe Morgan, became legends. We are moved by their passing. My sadness today leaves me to ponder the question—Why?
Like the millions of stars that fill the night sky, it is only a few that reach us with their brilliance. They beckon us to look up. Fans are stargazers. They know where to look in the night sky. They study the stars, count them, and give them their names.
We were witnesses to their lives. We clapped and cheered, game after game, as all of those games added up to something remarkable. We watched our heroes transform from youthful rookies into seasoned veterans even as our own youth slipped away. Their lives and careers became mile markers on our personal journeys and pages in our collective history. They belong to us and to our national treasure chest.
Like so many of the balls he hit, Joe Morgan has left the park. Like the stars, his brilliance lives on. I will think of him each time a rookie steps up to the plate and an umpire cries, “Play ball.”
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