Last night, Matt Stairs achieved a lifelong dream he once thought was out of reach.
Days of nail-biting rain delays had passed. The Rays and the Phillies took to the dampened field and Philadelphia walked off as World Series Champions for the first time in 30 years.
For 40-year-old Stairs, it must have been the pinnacle of a long, turbulent career. Yet you won't hear his name listed among the heroes credited with the win. He isn't the series MVP, the fastest outfielder, or the biggest slugger.
Stairs is another type of hero entirely—the one you find between the lines of the major news stories, bolstering his teammates with experience, confidence, and leadership. More importantly, he is the easy-going hometown idol for many young baseball players in New Brunswick.
Canada isn't known for producing vast numbers of Major League Baseball stars. Hockey reigns supreme, for the most part. Even Stairs can't escape it entirely—he coaches hockey during his offseason at a private school in Bangor, Maine. High-caliber athletes often play hockey in winter and baseball during the warmer months.
It's been almost a century since a New Brunswick native baseballer played in the World Series. Despite the lack of big league idols to emulate, baseball has a loyal following, particularly in New Brunswick and British Columbia.
Stairs grew up outside the city of Fredericton, not far from my hometown. When I was a teenager, he was playing for Oakland and putting up some of the best numbers of his career. Everyone knew who Matt Stairs was, and were bursting with pride over the fact a local boy had made it big.
Rural New Brunswick is a difficult place to grow up, and a hard place to make a living. Even more so now than when Stairs was a kid. Dreams are very important things. Matt Stairs is a hero because not only does he foster dreams through his achievements, he fosters them through his actions.
Matt is the guy that will stop and chat with you at the local general store.
He's the guy that enrolls his kids in the local public school instead of sending them to private schools.
He's the guy that wanders around the clubhouse in a jock strap and a Santa hat to lighten his teammates' moods.
He's also the guy that shrugged and got on with business after his pivotal home run in Game Three of the NLCS.
Congratulations, Matt. My seven-year-old nephew, who lives 10 minutes from your old house, can't wait to see your ring.
Knowing Matt, my little nephew won't have to wait long.
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