“I Am Third”

10 May

When I was young I read a lot of sports books and watched a lot of sports movies.  One I’m sure many of you in my generation will definitely remember was “Brian’s Song.”  It documented the close friendship between Chicago Bears superstar-to-be running back Gayle Sayres, and his lesser known teammate Brian Piccolo.  The two actually became the first black and white teammates to room together when the civil rights movement was at its height.  But sadly this story will always be most remembered for the fact that Bran Piccolo died of cancer at the age of 26.

Every time I hear the theme song  from this made-for-tv-movie classic, it still makes me cry.  But there is one line from that movie that has always stood out for me.  Part of it later became the title of Gayle Sayers autobiography:

“The Lord is first, my friends are second, and I am third.”                  Gayle Sayers     

I find myself thinking of this quote now as I listen to all the hoopla about whether Roy Oswalt should have taken 8 days to go home to tornado ravaged Mississippi.

The predominant sports talk opinion is that 8 days was too many.  He should have gone home, checked on his family, then come back to the team.  After all, he’s being paid a lot of many to pitch for the Phillies and that should be his priority.

Well, I beg to differ.  One thing Oswalt said that has gotten particular scrutiny?

“Baseball is a gift, it’s something we’re blessed to do, but it’s about third or fourth on my list.”

Gayle Sayers would have approved.

But not the sports pundits and fans:  “What could be higher?,”  they endlessly speculated?  Family could be first,” some generously admitted, “but shouldn’t baseball be second?  He’s being paid millions of dollars to do his job.” (There’s that money thing again.)  “He needs to do it.”

The storms blew through Oswalt’s home town of Weir, Mississippi on April 26 while he was on the mound in Arizona. He and his high-school sweetheart wife, Nicole just hours before the game were communicating by cell phone, worrying about their 3 children, Arlee Faith, 6, Ainslee Grace, 3 and Aubree, just 6 months old who were staying with his in-laws at the time the storm hit.

“It (the tornado) hit the ground about a couple of miles past our house and my in-laws house….The biggest thing is my three kids were there and it woke them up during the night and they had to run through the wind and rain to get to a storm cellar.  It kind of scared them a little bit.”

How many days is that worth?  Should he have returned after 2 or 3?

(For the record Phillies GM Ruben Amaro  granted Oswalt the leave, no questions asked).

It was the second deadliest storm in US history, with over 300 people killed.   Thankfully, Oswalt and his family were unharmed.

“We couldn’t get to the house, there was so much debris.” [But] we came out good compared to two or three miles down the road.”

The damage was immense.  The neighboring town of East Webster was completely decimated.  The storm went right through the high school and the town.  Many lives were lost.

This was especially difficult for the Oswalts since just one year ago their family home was destroyed by another tornado.  And the emotional fallout from that loss still lingers.

“I think people don’t really understand it, a lot of people haven’t seen it.  You grow up in a house–I was there for 33 years, my parents were there for 40-some odd years–and everything you remember from growing up is kind of gone.  It’s mentally tough.”

OK, so do you tack on a day or two more for emotional distress?  What’s that, are we up to 4 days now?

Many fans complained that it was Roy himself who was riding the bulldozer, clearing down trees and debris. “Isn’t that really how he re-injured his back and why he is now on the DL?  Couldn’t he at least have let someone else do the heavy lifting?”

Not according to Roy’s college coach Kenny Dupont, commenting on Roy’s help during the 2010 tornado:

“That’s Roy.  Roy is at home helping people.  Roy always puts other people ahead of himself.  When something goes wrong Roy is always there.”

Gayle Sayers would have approved.

As for Roy Oswalt, I, for one, think he’s got his priorities straight:

“A lot of people think [playing baseball] is who you are as a person.  It’s not.  It’s something that you’re blessed to do, and you get to do it at the highest level, but as far as the game goes, baseball doesn’t mean more than my family for sure.”

And that’s something that Gayle Sayers would have definitely approved:

“I don’t want to be remembered as the man who scored six touchdowns in a game.  I want to be remembered as a winner in life.”        Gayle Sayers

5 Responses to ““I Am Third””

  1. Fern Zeigler May 10, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    ok, now you are actually giving me the chills!

    • LJ May 10, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

      Ruben Amaro has a jewish mother. OF COURSE he sent those little girls their daddy!

      • girlsbestphriend May 10, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

        Thanks, Lisa. You learn something new every day!

  2. Shirley May 10, 2011 at 10:52 pm #

    Sue, today’s blog brought back many memories…”Brian’s Song” was the first, and only, time I saw Mutty cry at a movie.

    • susan cohen-cickler May 11, 2011 at 1:33 am #

      Thanks for sharing that Shirley. That really was a tear-jerker.


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