One of Us
Doing great things is not enough. Heroes are something more.
They need to be us.
Kirby was us, and more. A Midwest kid, from humble beginnings. A body type that few would envy. A youthful enthusiasm that should’ve faded but didn’t. Instead, the joy bubbled over, on and off the field. It transformed the pudgy kid into a superstar, the clown into a team leader, and the underdog into a World Series hero.
But it wasn’t the greatness that endeared him to us. It was the plainness. It was the humanity.
Unfortunately, humanity isn’t invincible, and Kirby wasn’t either. A Dennis Martinez fastball and an eye disease reminded us of that. Not that we accepted it. Despite his formal retirement, there would be annual rumors that Kirby was returning over the next four years. We were waiting for him to rise from the ashes.
All the ashes created were grime. Humanity also wrestles with some ugly demons. In 2002, we found out that Kirby did, too. Kirby’s dysfunctional love life became front-page news. His least proud moments became public record. Isolation followed, and there’s ample evidence that depression came soon after.
It isn’t clear he ever recovered. That’s also part of being human.
It’s two sides of the same coin. The humanity Kirby displayed after his career is exactly that which we embraced during his career. Doing great things is not enough. Heroes are something more. They need to be us. They need to struggle like we struggle, and still raise themselves, and the people around them, to greatness. They need to remind us that glory is still out there, and it’s waiting.
Like the old man and the sea, he was our DiMaggio. A man who became larger-than-life, that represented everything we wanted to be, damn near immortal.
Turns out that Immortals don’t last as long as they used to.
But that’s the point, isn’t it? Kirby never allowed himself to become that untouchable star. Instead, he was our friend, our neighbor, our son, our brother. He was human. That's why he touched us all. That’s why he was our hero.
He was us.