Ozzie Smith is my uncle…in my head. A kid’s imagination can create all kinds of things – from superpowers to friends no one else can see or hear. My imagination fashioned family members out of sports heroes, entertainers and community leaders.
Most of my real family consists of women. I didn’t have a relationship with my dad or any of his brothers, my mom’s brother was M.I.A., and I don’t have any brothers of my own. Suffice it to say, male role models were few and far between.
I became a baseball fan watching the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals. It was a team full of guys who looked like me and could have easily lived in my neighborhood. Back then, baseball players weren’t the size of an Aaron Judge or a Giancarlo Stanton. They didn’t come off as movie stars. Most resembled family members. There was Uncle Ozzie and my cousins, Willie, Vince, Tito and Lonnie.
Unlike the other grown men in my life as a kid, Uncle Ozzie was always around. I was able to go to games by making the honor roll at school and the Cardinals were on TV for what seemed like the entire summer. The city loved Ozzie and every kid wanted to play shortstop and wear no. 1.
His trademark back-flip wasn’t happening, but I learned to hit left-handed and play the short hop because of Ozzie. I took Jack Buck’s famous call in the 1985 NLCS as a personal directive. Imagine a doughy nine-year-old doing a Tasmanian Devil-like spin when Ozzie’s home run ball sailed over the right field wall.
Uncle Ozzie wasn’t the biggest guy on the team and he wasn’t what sportscasters would call a consistent home run threat. However, he taught me, scratch that, he taught all of us that when you see your pitch, swing and swing hard.
He also taught us about life having multiple chapters. After Ozzie put down his baseball bat, hit picked up a golf club. Pro athletes often take up golf when they retire, but the sport became Ozzie’s new passion. He not only played, he got involved on a significant level. His work with PGA REACH, the charitable foundation of the PGA of America, helps bring the game of golf to kids who wouldn’t otherwise have access.
He’s being Uncle Ozzie to a whole new generation.
On Saturday night, Ozzie will receive a Musial Award for his work with PGA REACH. That’s right, a Cardinal immortal will receive an award named for another Cardinal immortal…for golf. The Musial Awards aren’t about specific sports. They’re about sportsmanship. They’re about people using the skills, resources and influence they have to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
Superheroes have a variety of powers, but among them all, each has the indispensable ability to care. The same is true of sports heroes. The ability to run fast, jump high and throw far all fade, but compassion is a lifelong skill that we all have. And it only goes away if we refuse to use it. Ozzie doesn’t do back-flips anymore, but he’s never stopped turning lives around.
The Musial Awards – presented by Maryville University – takes place annually the Saturday before Thanksgiving at the historic 3,000-seat Stifel Theatre in Downtown St. Louis. The show is produced by the St. Louis Sports Commission and the National Sportsmanship Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization. In addition to keeping alive the legacy of Stan the Man, the mission of the Musial Awards is to encourage selflessness, integrity and civility in sports and society – and to inspire people across the nation to be good sports.