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IT'S THE PITTS -- NEVER MEET YOUR HEROES

by: Lee Pitts

I suppose you heard about the big uproar at the National FFA Convention where several courageous FFA members walked out on Carrie Underwood's performance because she turned out to be a vegetarian/animal rightist who would rather sing to cows than eat them. I remember watching American Idol, the show that made Carrie famous, when she was first introduced to viewers. She was shown caring for her show steer and seemed like a good old country gal and I hoped she'd win. Now it appears I should have been rooting for the long-haired hippy who finished second. He may have done drugs but at least he ate beef.

I should've known better than to like someone who I only knew through the boob tube. Almost every time I have met someone I thought I knew through press releases and magazine articles they turned out NOT to be the person I thought they were.

For many years I attended the 26 Bar bull sale in Arizona where the owners, John Wayne and Louis Johnson, sold their Hereford offering. Of course, prior to meeting John Wayne I was a huge fan, having grown up watching his cowboy westerns. The Duke certainly was a larger than life figure but I never could get past one little irritating thing about John Wayne: He wore his pants about five inches off the ground. I know it's ticky-tack but I've never seen a real cowboy wear their pants like that.

I also met another of my heroes one time in Texas at a Brangus sale. I was a big James Michener fan and I think his book Centennial is one of the best books I've ever read. That one man could do that much research amazed me. It turns out that perhaps one man didn't. Michener was at the sale gathering information for his book about Texas, or at least his research assistants were doing research. After I learned that Michener relied heavily on his assistants I didn't enjoy his writing quite as much.

I don't know why I should have idolized a writer anyway, there's nothing romantic about what they do. We mostly daydream, listen in on other people's conversations, steal their stories, borrow their words and then take all the credit.

I met the baseball star Steve Garvey once and he struck me as having nothing under his ball cap but hair. As an FFA officer I once spent an afternoon with an important Senator that I'd previously admired but afterwards I vowed that if I ever got old enough to vote I wouldn't waste it on him. I was fortunate to have a friend who toiled largely in anonymity as the offensive line coach for the San Francisco 49ers. He was everything the athletes who he introduced me too were not: intelligent, fair-minded and humble. I don't idolize athletes much any more after having met some.

The problem is we build up images in our mind of who and what we think people are and they seldom deliver. Oh, there have been a few people who lived up to their billing. My friend E.C. arranged for me to sit with Nolan Ryan and his wonderful wife during a luncheon once. I was a big fan and Nolan was even more impressive in person. So was Ronald Reagan. I got to present him with an honorary FFA State Farmer Degree when he was Governor and he was one of the most inspiring people I've ever met. I think I'd like to meet team roper Walt Woodard too for the same reason.

Although our writing careers began about the same time I've always looked up to Baxter Black and fans will be glad to know he's the real deal. An hour after I met Baxter for the first time he was helping feed my cows. He's down-to-earth, witty, smart and compassionate. I'll bet the FFA'ers at their national convention were much more impressed with Baxter than they were with the American Idol. And rightly so.

If there are any young people who read this simple column I'd like to pass along a little advice, for whatever it's worth. Unless you want to be disappointed, pick your heroes a little closer to home. Perhaps a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, soldier, fireman or a coach. People you know for sure to be worthy of your worship.

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