I was once Mike Flanagan's biggest fan
Pat Summit's early on-set dementia and Steve Jobs' resignation as Apple CEO, likely for health reasons, have been the topic of much public discourse this week. I feel for Summit and Jobs as a fellow human beings, but I haven't connected to those stories in the way it seems so many others have.
No matter how many times Summit or Jobs has appeared on my television screen, I cannot muster the sense that I share any kind of bond with either public figure. Familiarity has not bred even a remote sense of connection, which makes it difficult to relate to many of the sentiments I've heard expressed about both individuals.
This led me to wondering if I would feel differently were Summit the coach of my favorite team, or, for that matter, if I was a tech junkie. Then I learned on Wednesday night that Mike Flanagan died.
Flanagan was among my childhood heroes. I wrote him a letter in elementary school for a class project, an effort that included the best compliment my young mind could think to offer: "I'm your biggest fan." I recall a genuine sense of hurt when he never wrote back. Such is a child's imagination. Not only did I expect Flanagan to read my letter, I also anticipated he would write back cheerfully and express his sincere gratitude that his search to find the guy who liked him most was finally over.
I moved on from Flanny fandom and became the "biggest fan" of other players. (In the case of Sam Horn, those words may have held some truth. Who else could have been so smitten with a .230 hitter?) And my letter writing campaign continued. Bo Jackson received a sympathy card from this concerned fan after his mother died. It came with an invitation to dinner the next time the Royals were in Baltimore.
Older, wiser, but no less optimistic, I imagined Jackson emerging from a Nike van as he arrived in my neighborhood. I even checked the baseball schedule to know when to set out an extra plate at the dinner table. Needless to say, it never happened - neither the van nor the player showed up. However, I was less hurt by Bo's rejection. Maybe it was age, or perhaps I was more understanding since he kept such a busy schedule.
I don't have sports heroes anymore. Sometimes I try for old-time's sake, but there's no recapturing the innocence that made me believe my relationships with my favorite players were personal rather than imagined. Over time I realized that my heroes were not infallible. Days like this serve as a reminder that they're not immortal either.
I suppose my reaction to Mike Flanagan's passing isn't altogether different than the ones I had when I learned of Pat Summit and Steve Jobs' health challenges. I feel a sense of sympathy in response to another person's unfortunate circumstance. The difference in this case is that the story struck a little closer to home since I have experiences that relate to the person, however indirectly that may be. Put another way, I didn't pick up the phone to call my father to talk about Pat Summit.
I haven't drawn any great conclusions about what is the most appropriate response to sad news about a public figure, even - or especially - when the news hits close to home. In the case of Mike Flanagan, whose talents peaked at the same time as my childhood imagination, my reaction is simply this: Thanks for the memories.