Sunday, April 29, 2007

Always a Champion: Josh Hancock

The Hancock family of Tupelo, MS lost a good man this past weekend. So did the world of baseball. Josh Hancock was a champion on and off the field.

The relationship between a professional athlete and his fans can be difficult to completely define. Much like other relationships, the tone and the intensity can vary from day to day. Becoming an avid supporter of a professional athlete usually starts with an appreciation for his style of play or his passion for the game. Your support blossoms when you see inklings of what might be strong character, kindness, humility, all the things from which good people are made. And at its peak, a certain level of admiration develops and you officially become a "fan."

That's what holds true for me anyway. I am a baseball fan and a St. Louis Cardinals season ticket holder. And much to the enjoyment of the fans around me in section 505 at Busch Stadium, I was a fan of Josh Hancock. Really, in section 505, everyone was.

Josh Hancock may have never taken Major League baseball by storm or lit up the record books. In his short pitching career, Hancock appeared in only 102 games. Yet in that time, he garnered the admiration of many. Hancock was a team player, taking the ball whenever it was handed to him, in good or bad situations, and according to the Cardinal staff, never questioning why. He did what was best for the team. From my seat, I witnessed some of the interaction with the fans and watched as he brought joy to many a child leaning over the railing of the bullpen between innings, hoping to get a ball. At charity events or social functions, Hancock represented his team well. He was respectful and courteous and always offered, at the very least, a smile.

Josh Hancock's work ethic on the field made it easy to become a fan. And his attitude and presence off the field made me proud to be a fan. As news of his passing spread across the country, the people closest to Josh Hancock began stepping forward with stories of confirmation that he was, indeed, worthy of admiration.

To me, and to all of his fans, Josh Hancock will always be a champion. We will cry for a while but we will never forget the contribution he made to baseball, to Cardinal nation and to the world around him.

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