You never know where you’ll meet a real hero

So I spent much of Saturday putting together a “these people live among you” column, becoming more and more depressed by the minute before going in a completely different direction.

I had gone to Las Vegas, asked Kobe Bryant a series of questions about the questions that he had raised about his future with the Lakers and was now reading e-mail from people who were really ticked off because I was bothering their hero.

“I want to know what is going on with the future of Kobe and the Lakers just as much as the next guy,” Eric Knighton wrote, “but not at the price of being an irritant to the man.”

I don’t know what came over me.


“Do us all a favor and just kill yourself,” wrote someone with a “djryand” AOL address. “Please,” the e-mailer added, and “thank you.”

Steve Sapszyan e-mailed and asked, “If Kobe was white, would you still be acting the way you do? There is a feeling among a lot co-workers and friends of mine that you’re after Kobe because he’s black.” Obviously Kevin Brown and Kevin Malone are not among his friends or co-workers.

“Dear stupid,” began Ryan Bonin, “you are such an idiot. You’re old, ugly, stupid and people don’t care about you, stupid. Get this through your stupid skull, knucklehead, LA LOVES KOBE BRYANT; LA HATES TJ SIMERS.”

And so it went, e-mailer Tina Capistrano pretty much summing it up: “I’ve had the extreme pleasure of watching the greatest modern player in the game, Kobe Bryant. I’ve watched a strong-willed, excellent athlete excel in a highly competitive game under very stressful conditions. I wonder what you have done in your profession that comes near to what Kobe has accomplished in his career?”

I was going to reply, “I’ve struck out James Denton,” but then I realized anyone could do that, and so it went, one e-mail after another letting me have it, the hero worshipers in a real uproar.

Or, as someone calling themself, “Hobart Gardens Apartments,” put it, “Kobe is a GIANT while you are a NOBODY.”

I’d have used lower case on “nobody,” but that’s just me, always critical.

I decided to take a break from the e-mail, and stopped by Dodger Stadium to check on the Choking Dogs where I bumped into Vin Scully. These people really do live among you, and sometimes that’s a really good thing.

Scully was asking Jeff Kent if he’d say hello to a blind youngster, who wasn’t supposed to live much longer than 12 years -- but was celebrating a 16th birthday.

“His brother has the same thing,” Scully told Kent, “and is blind too.”

For the next hour I watched as Scully went from player to player asking for help, each one then stopping by John and Ben Sikorra for a visit. Maybe these guys would start winning more if Scully just asked them.

Kent handed the bat he had been using to birthday-boy John and then put his arms around both boys so their dad, Joe, could take a picture.

“The thing that got me was watching their father take those pictures of the kids with their heroes -- knowing the boys will never be able to see those pictures,” Scully said. “I guess God put people like that on earth to remind the rest of us we don’t have it so bad.”

Luis Gonzalez followed Scully’s lead and joined the kids, Gonzalez handing his bat to Ben -- presumably the one without all the holes in it.

Meanwhile, Kent had joined another group of visitors -- veterans who had served in Iraq. It was obvious each had left a part of them behind.

One of the veterans had a dog, Valor, and it had a grip on Kent’s glove and now the two bulldogs were playing tug of war. To be accurate, of course, one of the dogs was actually a Lab.

Kent then moved smoothly from one injured vet to the next, Rick Monday, Grady Little and Brad Penny doing the same. Later it’d be Matt Kemp and Juan Pierre.

Someone might argue, so what’s the big deal, big-time athletes walking 20 yards out of their way to shake someone’s hand? Now is no time to bring up Barry Bonds.

IRVINE’S DAVID FOSS lost his left leg to a homemade bomb while on duty in Iraq. “It was May 3,” he said, and talk about being a world away, the Dodgers had that day off so they could fly first class to Atlanta.

“I’ve met Mr. Scully, Tommy Lasorda and I’ve only been here an hour,” Foss said. “It’s been one of the best days of my life.”

I mentioned Kobe, and the philosophical conflict I was having with hero worship and athletes, but the obvious impact now that I could see Kent & Co. were having on the vets, who would really seem to be the heroes in attendance here.

“I don’t consider myself a hero,” Foss said. “I was just doing my job. But I look at athletes as heroes. Baseball players have always been heroes to me.”

Joey Bozik, who now has two artificial legs and an artificial arm because of the damage inflicted by an anti-tank mine, was doing his best to sit comfortably nearby on a chair, but was losing the struggle.

“I don’t think athletes are heroes,” Bozik said, “but they are definitely role models, and can be inspirational. A true hero really doesn’t call himself a hero -- he’s defined as a hero by his actions.”

The vets have done that, and for a few minutes in their own way the Dodgers were doing what they could.

I know there are a number of instances, and probably more that haven’t been publicized, when Bryant has made someone with medical problems feel better. He’s made it a regular practice to be there for make-a-wish kids, but then there are also things he has done that aren’t so good or admirable.

It seems to make him pretty human, a basketball player with extraordinary talent, of course, but pretty human just the same -- like everyone else.

It doesn’t seem to make him a hero, or someone to worship blindly. But without question, he’s a pure joy to watch when he’s running around in a Lakers uniform.

And I’d just like to know if he’s going to be wearing one again, and do so without having to genuflect first.


T.J. Simers can be reached at To read previous columns by Simers, go to