HEROES GIVE US STRENGTH TO BE OUR (Best) SELVES

He stepped into the batters box and took his stance. Appearing relaxed but focused, every muscle synchronized like the instruments of an orchestra the moment before they begin to play. His eyes pierced the ball, which was still resting in the pitcher’s hand.

The curious crowd, never having seen him but desperate and hungry for a winner, held their collective breath. The air was still but a storm was brewing. You could hear a pin drop...but then a sudden explosion as his bat met the ball head-on. And as the ball, what was left of it, raced into the night-- into the thunder-- the crowd gasped in awe, then roared to their feet (that haunting musical theme rose to a crescendo) and a hero was born.


(Paraphrased)“So, did you read Merzy’s article?”

“It must’ve been the rain. Stitches got loose.”

“C’mon! It didn’t start to rain ‘till after he hit the ball.”
“Ball was defective.”

“Defective? He made a meal out of it!”

“(Shrugs) What’s the name of his bat?”

“Wonderboy.”

“Ha! Right. Wonderboy.”

“Oh, you guys are always running down amazing things. I tell you this guy, Hobbs—you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! I got a feeling about him”…


The Natural. Roy Hobbs changed the fortunes of the “New York Knights.” One swing of the bat canonized his name among faithful fans in every major city…in myth. The Natural is a universal myth: The Hero's Journey as described by the eminent Joseph Campbell ("The Hero With A Thousand Faces"). The events depicted in the story happened in the mind of its author, Bernard Malamud. But the spirit of those events happens regularly to children and adults everywhere. From large cities to small hamlets, people regularly negotiate life’s stressors. We come face to face with our limitations, while attempting to act resourcefully and achieve success. Our self-esteem, the belief that we can consistently perform with exquisite elegance to achieve maximal success from our behavior and communication, is in large measure a function of our ability to be resourceful in the presence of adversity; To win, to do well. And in the process, we notice those who can, and we call them Heroes. A “hero” can be a person or a group of people. Sometimes it can be an animal—or even a cartoon character! In many instances, it’s a sports figure or team.

We just witnessed this during the past week from New York To San Francisco-- in fact, when San Francisco was in New York! The greatest “closer” in the game of baseball, Mariano Rivera, a New York Yankee for the past nineteen seasons, who had been honored during this, his final year in baseball in stadiums across the land, was honored at Yankee Stadium in front of a capacity crowd; and a nationwide audience.

The hero becomes a symbol of success with which people identify strongly. But often, he (she) can also be worshipped for his efforts in “getting there.” The painful, arduous process which doesn’t always lead to success is something quite familiar to many of us, and therefore, often an essential aspect of identifying with a hero. Witness the die-hard Chicago Cubs fans, Boston Red Sox Fans…and for many years, Mets fans. In rooting for their heroes people are, in essence, rooting for themselves! Their lives seem to fluctuate isomorphically with the efforts of their heroes-- an uncanny excitement associated with getting there! As if those heroic efforts are tied to their own lives, they are exalted with each win; agonized by each defeat, promising themselves (and tacitly their heroes) that “next time we will win.” “Just wait until next year—we’ll show you!”


In the process of identifying with a hero, part of what makes you a winner is “belonging.” By rooting for someone or some group such as a team, you are part of a class of people who do the same. You belong. And belonging is essential for enhancing your self-image and your public image. This is more than some light diversion from one’s daily routine. The self is involved. You may wear the same clothing as your favorite hero, walk or talk the same way, imitate a particular behavior you admire such as the way he swings a bat, pitches, or shoots hoops. Cards, banners, videotapes all become part of what is called, “memorabilia.”
 How many New York Yankee jerseys do you think you will see during the forthcoming year displaying the number 42?

There is a certain air of confidence about us when our heroes come through. We equate their success with ours. As such, in the forthcoming days, there’s quite possibly more of a spring in your step, a lilt in your voice, a smile on your face that wasn’t that noticeable before. And why not? You’ve tasted success, albeit vicariously. After all, your public image is involved! The role of a hero is not often easy. He (she) is frequently under scrutiny by those who admire and identify with him. Unfortunately, there are times when heroes model behaviors that are not self-enhancing, such as substance abuse, league or team rule violations or criminal behavior. At such times, admirers become conflicted in their loyalty. Their recognition of success is marred by the culpability of the hero. So everywhere “A-Rod” plays, a chorus of “boos” follows. What a shame, what a waste of a great talent!

This can have adverse effects on those who believe they make good choices, have good taste or judge wisely. Sometimes, a useful epilogue to such unfortunate stories is the re-emergence of the hero through rehabilitation. This can serve to model an even greater strength and, in the process, recapture the loyalty of fans.


Generally, the bond created between people and their heroes; and among individuals who form similar bonds and therefore, belong as one, is self-enhancing. It becomes a model for achieving excellence in performance, for recognizing the importance of working hard in striving toward a goal, despite not always achieving success. Essential to identifying with heroes is the understanding that they are embraced for their efforts as well as their successes. The symbols we collect, and the banners, which we hang in their honor, serve as constant reminders to “aim high.”
 And this phenomenon seems universal… whether our bedrooms fly the New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals…or even the New York Knights.