LOS ANGELES – Not going to buy any shoes today. Not going to burn any either. Not going to think at all about shoes today. Not going to be inspired by those people everybody already knows about, anybody who reps a company that makes stuff nobody really needs or has ever really needed, so not going to get carried away by some spit-polished ad or ridiculous debate or wearying hate.
No. Just going to remember why we watch, why we play, why we try, why we care, why we care when we probably shouldn’t, why we care so damned much. Why we choose to believe or not, but mostly do. It’s our nature.
So not, say, Roberto Clemente today, of all days, when we probably ought to be inspired by Roberto Clemente, but rather those who put books in libraries and comfort in cancer wards and schools in Africa and ballparks in neighborhoods today, in part of course because of Roberto Clemente yesterday. Because it had to start somewhere. With a gesture. With an effort. With a choice. With a resolute refusal to allow the bad stuff, the unjust stuff, the hurtful stuff to continue. Then someone had to follow.
And not, say, Jim Abbott, one day after the 25th anniversary of the no-hitter he threw at Yankee Stadium. But, rather, the kid who 25 years later grew up different and afraid and then discovered he wasn’t so different and definitely was not afraid, because there was a guy who did this once. A guy just like him. So he played to fit in, and then he played to be better, and then he played to be great, all because someone included him once, and that was all he would require. To be included. To be seen. To be granted the time to find a way. The rest, by the way, was him. Or her.
And not, say, Ian Desmond, who not that long ago was raving about a cluster of baseball fields in Washington D.C., but rather the boys and girls from down the block who one day decided to knock on the gate of the fence that surrounds those baseball fields, to maybe fill that day with something healthy, to find their way from the fields of that urban baseball academy to a future they’d be proud of. It’s not so much about the money spent to create those fields, to maintain them, to staff them, but about the courage it sometimes takes to accept a free baseball glove and a pair of spikes to learn if this is indeed one’s place.
There are good people if you look. There are heroes among us. They could be the people who play the games or the people who watch them or the people who’ve never heard of them, and if they wear whatever shoes they want then that seems reasonable, and if they don’t agree with the narrator then that’s fair enough. It’s why we live here.
But the best part of all of us is where we understand and encourage. Our inclination to recognize another’s pain, another’s victory, to say we were wrong. Or feel we were right, and shut up about it. Our ability to see good. To see how it could be — should be — through all of the ways it shouldn’t be.
It’s just a commercial, man.
And didn’t you already have something to believe in?
Those kids in headscarves Anthony Rizzo makes laugh? Those boys and girls Clayton Kershaw houses and feeds? Those young ballplayers who see themselves in Chris Archer, who want to grow up to be Adam Jones, who follow the path cleared in part by Adrian Beltre, who are driven by Clemente, see a miracle in Abbott, are so thankful for Desmond?
That’s where it comes from. Where it starts.
“There are people all over the world praying for your worst day,” said the man at the dugout railing at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, the truth whether you are prone to believing in something or not, whether the commercial made you think or, somehow, made you mad.
It’s sports. Just sports. But often enough it begins with a broader vision, a purer motivation. Not about what shoes you wear, but whose shoes you might fit into. Not about a political message, but the reality behind the authentic message, your reality, the one that threatens your walk to school or drive home from work or rattles your heart, the one hardly anyone else knows about. That too few care about. What we’re talking about here.
It’s framed in sports but what it really is doesn’t fill arenas. The sides are blurry. The rewards are scattered, if they exist at all. It’s life. How we express it. How we manage it. Endure it. Offer it.
So we watch and play and try, most of us. And we care. That has to mean we believe. That we already did. That it’s nice to be reminded once in a while.
Wear whatever shoes you want.
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