Everyday heroes are all around us
By GARY J. CARUSO
As last week's World Series has shown, baseball is the type of team sport that produces the most unlikely heroes. Every player has the opportunity to contribute to the team's victory. Yet it is only in certain circumstances, when the game is in the balance, can the least talented player of the team be the hero.
It happens so often that spectators wait in anticipation for excellence from the most unexpected source. It could be the home run or the stolen base. It could be the diving catch or the perfect sacrifice bunt. It always is unpredictable‚ and it always is special.
Reggie Jackson was know as "Mr. October" because he defied the norm and often won World Series games with his play. Those who supported the teams for which he played, along with those who just admired the exhibition of excellence, considered him a hero. Jackson's fame, like that of Knute Rockne or Babe Ruth, transcends continents and decades. Sports fans everywhere consider them heroes.
While society needs heroes to set standards of excellence, many of today's heroes are the ordinary people who have lived or are living among us. My Notre Dame classmate, Steve Pallucca, grew up in Kansas but is a lifelong Yankees fan. To this day, I still will not let him forget that as fourth-graders we both sat in elementary school listening to the seventh game of the 1960 World Series in which the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the New York Yankees 10-9 in the final inning. Although we sat 1,200 miles from each other and cheered for different teams, our thoughts and hopes hung on every pitch as it was announced. When Pittsburgh's Bill Mazeroski lead off the bottom of the ninth inning with the game winning home run, I had a hero. Steve was in tears.
Today I have another hero‚ not a Yankee, but my classmate Steve. Throughout the years, he has shown me how to be generous, how to be lighthearted, how to use humor. His courage and strength are rock solid, especially when he cared for his father who suffered a long, slow death from Alzheimer's Disease. He exorcised his personal demons after that long ordeal and is a "character" in his small rural Kansas town.
Heroes walk among us, have passed by us and will continue to be a part of our life journey. They are seldom recognizable, but do, in fact, surround us everyday. Two former Notre Dame professors are heroes of mine. Frank O'Malley‚ "Mr. Chips of Notre Dame," suffered the life of the cross through a "perfectly dry martini" yet taught me to reach for faith through literature. He is the first layman to be buried on campus in the community cemetery.
Leonard Summer, "you can call me Lenny," taught speech, theater, forensics and debate at Notre Dame. At 87 years of age, he lives quietly near campus with his 40-inch television. During his tenure at Notre Dame, he won seven national championships. His students are some of the best lawyers, businessmen and politicians in the country.
Heroes can be benefactors like Notre Dame's Ray Siegfried whose humility and love for ND is larger than his material gains. Heroes can be priests like Father Bill Seetch of Morrissey Manor who tends to the living conditions of the young men in his dorm and mends the souls of anyone who may cross his path. While the age group of his students remains a constant, time nips at him slowly in his role as Alumni Association chaplain.
Heroes like Rex Rakow, Phil Johnson and Chuck Hurley work at Notre Dame maintaining safety for the entire community. Heroes include Marge Strantz who has provided dedicated administrative support to the Student Affairs organization since my days at Notre Dame.
Student heroes are in every corner of the campus. They are those whose 15 minutes of fame may have come on "Wheel of Fortune" like Tony Guzzo, and who can teach me a social game called "beverage pong." Heroes are students who overcome uncertainty like Brian Tarquino and Doug Bartels when transferring like the early settlers of our Wild West from Dayton to Notre Dame‚ and are making an impact in their social circles. They are like Casey Mangine who dared to respond to this column via e-mail and developed a friendship with this columnist. They are the young men in Old College contemplating a life in the religious community in a time when their numbers are ever dwindling.
Heroes are always World Series most valuable players‚ rising to an occasion when least expected and making an impact on others. While one team must lose as the result of a hero in the World Series, society always wins when a hero passes by in everyday life. The task for most of us is not to rank the heroes of our life, but to become the embodiment of the those heroes who pass us by with or without a whisper.
Gary J. Caruso is a '73 Notre Dame graduate. His column appears every other Friday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not neccessarily those of the Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Monday, November 1, 1999