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July 21, 2008

What a real sports hero looks like

Sal_fasano I never watch baseball, but nonetheless, my new hero is minor-league backup catcher Sal Fasano.

In the August 2008 issue of Reader's Digest, Jeff Pearlman tells Fasano's story ("Mr. Clean," p. 132, print version only):

Ever since Fasano was selected by Kansas City in the 37th round of the 1993 June amateur draft, friends and family members have watched in dismay as he's been bypassed and overlooked. The routine became mind-numbingly familiar: Fasano would put up great minor-league numbers, sniff a promotion -- and then hear that another player was getting the nod. "It frustrated Sal, but it really frustrated me," said [Sal's brother] Mike. "All I wanted was for him to get a legitimate shot."

Hence, the phone call:

Mike: "Sal, I think you really should consider taking stuff."

Sal: "I just don't know ..."

Mike: "Look around you. I know a lot of guys are doing it -- it's obvious. Why not make yourself better?"

Sal: "It doesn't seem right."

Mike: "Right? You can be either a mediocre player or a great player. You can make either $200,000 a year or $10 million a year."

For the ensuing couple of minutes, Sal Fasano thought about it. Really, really thought about it. . . .

"My first team was the Hanover Park Braves," he says. "The very first game I ever played in, I hit a home run." Fasano had watched his father work as a carpenter, his mother as a custodian. As he honed his skills on the baseball diamond, he began to crave the golden ring -- the fame and fortune that accompanied major-league success. He wanted ... the dream.

Sal: "Mike, ten years from now, I'm gonna have to look at myself in the mirror, and I'm gonna ask myself whether I did it the right way. I might be a fool, but I have to be true to myself."

And that was that.

In a movie, the player who took that stand and spoke those words would make it to the very top through sheer grit, determination, talent, and a generous helping of luck. Unfortunately, Sal Fasano doesn't live in a movie. So he still watches the guys who look like what Pearlman calls "members of some sort of Incredible Hulk tribute band" surpass him and gain the adulation and money, while Fasano, with "a mashed-potato physique," has bounced back and forth between the major and minor leagues and "leads the league in brokenheartedness."

But he has his self-respect and the respect of colleagues and many baseball fans -- and even some of us non-baseball fans. And if our shallow, celebrity-obsessed culture truly understood concepts like honor, fairness, hard work, and ethics, guys like Sal Fasano would be the biggest stars in baseball -- and baseball would look very different than it does.

(Image © Michael T. Regan for Philadelphia City Paper)

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Comments

Joe Dalfonzo

Praise the Lord! There are apparently still a few real men left on this planet. Whether anyone realizes it or not, he is one of the biggest stars in baseball. Integrity rules...

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