I was kind of waiting for my son Aidan to bring this up to me tonight, and sure enough, he did. If he didn't, I would have — but I would've made it a big opera with old baseball cards and a big “when I was a kid” deal.
Well, that happened anyway.
For many young people, mortality is for the people in the news. It's never for the sports star. They play, they hit, they throw, they do interviews and baseball cards, and life stays there. They don't ever die. They just retire.
So when Aidan asked me tonight if I heard the news about Roy Halladay, I said, “Oh yes, I'm more than familiar with this story.” And I told him not to be afraid to have the same reaction I did back when I was 9 years old on New Year's Eve, 1972.
If you're my age and a St. Louis Cardinals fan, you remember being more of a baseball fan during those dark early 70s days. Because I loved baseball, I also loved the Reds, Phillies, Pirates, and the Red Sox; the Yankees, Orioles, and A's. Winners engaged me. Great players mesmerized me. I was one of the only kids I knew of my age with a subscription to Baseball Digest.
One of my favorite players was Roberto Clemente. He was a U.S. Marine. He was the first Latino player ever to be part of a World Series team and to be in the Hall of Fame.
By the time I was 9 and acquired one of my favorite baseball cards ever (why it was one of him striking out is beyond me), Roberto was a veteran Major Leaguer. (And, by the way, he hit the only walk-off inside-the-park grand slam in MLB history — and it was against the Cubs).
Offseason, December 1972, an earthquake hit his home country of Nicaragua. The Somoza government kept stealing relief supplies. Roberto decided he'd fly with supplies on the Douglas in hopes they wouldn't have the balls to steal from him. But the plane crashed, and he died.
At the time, tragic news wasn't every day, and it wasn't reported 24/7 — so this was a major event. I told Aidan how great it was to discover that my baseball hero was actually a hero beyond his batting average. And he was even more of a hero to me because of that.
Thurman Munson was another. When I was a kid, it was so cool that this burly, mustached butt-kicker catcher would stand in front of a plate and obliterate a runner. Johnny Bench was artful, but Thurman was rough, and I loved it. After a great career and consecutive All-Star appearances, 1979 marked the first year he wasn't in.
Even though he was a lifelong Yankee, and to this day is the only Yankee to win both a Rookie of the Year and an MVP, Thurman always wanted to play for the Cleveland Indians. He loved his family in Canton, Ohio, and bought a plane just so he could more frequently visit them. He crashed it while trying to perfect his flying, and he died.
Roy Halladay had one major reason for flying his plane when it crashed: he said he wanted to teach his boys someday how to fly, so he kept pushing for his hours.
I told Aidan these three men had one thing in common: whether it be Roberto sacrificing his time for his home country, or Thurman trying to take advantage of a new way to see his people more often, or Roy learning to fly and wanting to leave more behind for his kids than an ERA, these men never wasted a moment to turn their good fortune into something truly important to them.
And they did it even though there were risks.
There are teaching moments every day that tell us not to waste our fortunes, our talents, and our love by sitting around and not sharing and — more importantly — not daring to take the risks.
I've been blessed to have learned that we only waste a moment when we don't recognize one.