This is a tale of three athletes.
Any athlete that has played at an elite level will tell you that the one
thing — the one intoxicating aspect of the sport — is the roar of the crowd:
the thrill that goes up your spine when you make the perfect throw, dodge a
ferocious defender, break a spine-tingling tackle, strut down the greenway en
route to going under par, hit a three pointer at the buzzer, pitch a perfect
game, run in record time, or win a championship.
It is the reason that home teams like to play at home. Sure, they love to
sleep in their own bed, but more, they love performing in front of the people
that love them. Fans love their stars, and in return, athletes love their fans. ...(continue reading)
It's funny and sad, then, that sometimes those same athletes treat the
rush as far more important than the actual sport. Sometimes they approach the
fans like a politician approaches "the public," instead of "the people." If
these athletes loved the people then they would know when to quit, even when
making $35,000 a day.
$35,000 a day. Imagine that were your salary; all you would have to do to
earn it is to be an elite pitcher on one of the best teams in Major League
Baseball. For the better part of the 2009 season that was the deal that
20-year veteran John Smoltz had. He's a pitching ace with lifetime numbers
incredible enough he'll likely land in the Hall of Fame someday. Of late,
however, the Yankees exposed his weakness (as did every other team in his
last 10 starts). Smoltz is down to his Brett Favre moment: either be
relegated "for assignment" — meaning he could be sent down to the minor
leagues — or put his cleats away and start living life like those of us
NOT making $35,000 a day. As of today, Smoltz has 7 days to decide what he
wants to do with the Red Sox. We can assume he has loved to make the fans
happy; it remains to be seen whether the prospect of a graceful exit will
earn him their grateful praise.
Then there are those who treat the rush of the sport like a drug. When the
sport is taken away from them they reach for what they see as the next best
thing — drugs themselves.
Have you heard about Josh Hamilton?
In the last 24 hours, pictures of his most recent fall from grace have
spread around the Web like wildfire. In 1999 this slugger was drafted #1,
straight out of high school. A car accident while driving with his parents in
2001 temporarily took away his ability to play; he spent the rest of the
season recovering in the minor leagues. Josh had already been spending time
with what was described as the wrong crowd, but as he returned to the majors
in 2002, he took a nosedive. He started drinking and then his drinking led
him to other drugs, including crack cocaine. Josh now plays for the Texas
Rangers; he has a wife, three kids, and since 2002 has been in and out of
rehab eight times. He has publicly professed his love of God and sadly
demonstrated his love of drugs, breaking the hearts of his family and his
fans. Consider, though: he started using drugs heavily after he was injured
and for the first time in his life could no longer play baseball. It was the
only thing that created the same rush — the rush from the roar of the
crowd when making the perfect play. (As an aside, I wonder how the public would respond to Hamilton's public struggle if he were black?)
Finally, I'll point you to some ultimate crowd noise. This one involves Alex
Rodriquez, lovingly known as A-Rod, the 3rd baseman for the NY Yankees and
the poster boy for steroid use, saying sorry, and for repeatedly getting
distracted by the white noise of being famous. He has had a terrible
reputation for being unable to hit when the game matters, when the team
needs him the most. Some have called him "Mr. Irrelevant" for his lack of punch
in a tight situation.
Friday, however, he came close to erasing that nickname. The Red Sox and
Yankees played their second of four games in the Bronx: the next chapter in
the most exciting rivalry in sports. This season the Red Sox Nation has
stymied the Bronx Bombers in each of their previous eight games... but not in this
series. Thursday night both teams were all about their offense, but Friday night was the
exact opposite, as both sides played defense. In all, it took 14 pitchers, 15 innings
and over 5 1/2 hours to come to one grand moment for A-Rod.
Sports writer Ken Krayeske was in the stands and said, "I was in the
right field bleachers, and we did not move once the whole game!"
It was into that same right field that A-Rod hit his first home run in 72
at-bats, breaking a 0-0 tie that had lasted until the bottom of the 15th inning. The
Yankees won 2-0 for the first of two shut-outs of their potent rivals and an eventual sweep of the series after the Yankee's 5-2 win Sunday night.
sweep of the series.
The roar of the crowd was absolute pandemonium. A-Rod will, I suspect,
never hear anything else quite like what he heard rounding those bases. He
should forever remember that moment, but also recall where he was just months
ago: labeled as a 'roid star, and struggling with a surgically repaired hip.
Living in the moment and remembering where you've been; they are the same
things that John Smoltz might need to remember after
20 years and the visible diminishing of his skills, and what Josh Hamilton
might want to think about before he decides to go out on the town and take
the one drink, that leads to two, that leads to 12.
The roar of the crowd is just a moment. It is a glorious moment that
validates all the hard work that you have put into becoming an All-Star
pitcher, a feared slugger, or young star — but for all of that, it is
momentary. The fans love you... but the fans love anyone that does well for
them. You might be "the man" today, but what comes tomorrow?
It's what you do after the roar that counts.