In the wake of the disaster created by the head of the San Francisco 49ers' public relations department, and in light of steroid testing and other issues impacting professional and amateur sports, it is a good time to share an inspirational speech recently delivered to a group of Cleveland teenagers by Indians manager Eric Wedge.
Before a recent game at Jacobs Field, Wedge took time to address the 3rd Annual Teen Summitt. What he said to that group of more than 100 Cleveland teens is no different than the message he gives his millionaire players, or even his coaching staff. We wanted to show a clip of it for our ESPN broadcast, and I was so moved by the message Wedge delivered to those kids, I wanted to share some of it in this space. It applies to any of us, at any age, every day of our lives:
"When I was your age, and thought about the future, the future seemed forever away But when I look back, and think about the decisions I made, the right ones, the wrong ones, and think about how it affected me from year to year, I realize every decision you make is important. And you've got to believe that you're important. You can't let people around you bring you down, you're too important. Everybody here is important. I don't care what people tell you, or who tries to bring you down, you've got to believe that. If you can take every day, and get the most out of your life, do your homework, pay attention to people who care about you, be a good friend, and make good decisions; if you can take care of those things, every day, then you will have a future."
One of the messages that struck me most in Wedge's speech was when he told them, "You've got to be able to look in the mirror every day, and you've got the like that person looking back at you. You have to. You've got to like who you see. You've got to respect that person, you."
I gained enormous respect for Wedge that morning, and even had time to tease him about the local radio and newspaper polls beseeching him to shave off his moustache. He can't understand all the fuss, and when he looks in the mirror, he likes it. Besides, he said, "I've had it for 10 years, and unless it learns how to crawl off my face and into the batter's box and get a hit, it's not going anywhere."
Wedge demonstrates having a sense of humor about what you see in the mirror every morning too. I asked him which teammates, coaches or managers made that kind of impression on him, where he learned those values, if he had experienced a speech like that, that motivated him to the words he shares when he's asked to address a group. He paused, and seemed to be reviewing every level of his career, from Little League to Wichita State to the pros, and couldn't think of anyone in particular.
No one? "Not really, honestly," Eric said. "You know where it came from? That's how my dad and my mom talked to me all the time while I was growing up. You're a product of the decisions you make, and the choices of who you choose to hang out with. It made an impression on me, and I learned your circumstances are a direct result of the choices you make, good and bad, so it's best to make good ones. Once you figure that out, it's not that hard to live that way. It's just the way it's always been for me."
Gary Miller is a reporter for ESPN's major-league baseball coverage.