The new sports heroes — major league dads

Major League Baseball, of all businesses, instituted a paternity leave policy this year — and already a number of players have made use of it, allowing them to miss games in order to be there for their baby’s arrival into this world.

Are these jocks our new sports heroes? Should they be defended as sensitive, warm-hearted softies or ridiculed as wimpy slackers?

The critics say you can’t be a sports legend if you don’t show up for the game. Sports writers and fans who’ve condemned the players and the policy have been branded Neanderthals without feeling or compassion. What would happen to our great sports records if the likes of Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripkin had skipped a game or two to comfort a wife or caress a newborn? Would the Giants have won the Super Bowl if Phil Simms had focused on his babies? Would the Brooklyn Dodgers have won their World Series if Jackie Robinson had spent a couple of days changing diapers?

Most fans, however, offered support for the players, filling online sites. Typical comments included, “Whether it is the first or fifth child, if the dad can be there he should”; “At least some people still have family values in the world and realize that life isn’t all about sports or making money”; and “Family is what matters most. More dads should be doing that.”

Yes, fathers should be there for their babies’ births, but it shouldn’t matter what business they’re in. Goldman Sachs, Walmart and the Yankees should not only permit, but encourage or even demand that male employees are present when their spouses go into labor.

Do men need to be there? I cut the cord at my second daughter’s birth. This was meaningful to me and makes a great story, but I promise you, she doesn’t remember it.

So do fathers need to be on hand? No, but fathers SHOULD be there from day one, and every day afterwards. Your relationship with your child starts immediately, and if you don’t feel part of it then, will you the next week or the next year? Getting comfortable handling an infant leads to confidence dealing with a toddler and brings caring, bonding, building secure tweens and teens who do better in school and life. It’s not just that a guy feels good being there that first day of his baby’s life, he feels better being there every other day, too.

And dads need to be present for labor because of the potential sorrow and heartache. More than 600 women die every year in the U.S. during childbirth and up to 25 percent of babies may have complications at birth. A man shouldn’t have to live with the guilt that he was hitting a home run while his wife or child were facing distress or death. It’s easy to ridicule the sports star when he’s at an uneventful delivery, but what about when something goes wrong?

It’s time that baseball players and bus drivers all man-up and get to the hospital for the often painful, emotional, medical decisions that have to be made on the spot. If someone has to chose between the mother’s life and the baby’s, don’t let it be a policy book, doula or grandma because you were in the on-deck circle or pushing papers across a desk.

So let me introduce you to our new sports heroes, role models, guys who’ve made a choice that will make it easier for every new father who comes after to do what he should do. Thank you to Jason Bay of the Mets, Kurt Suzuki of the A’s, Ian Desmond of the Nationals and Colby Lewis, the first player to go out on paternity leave, of the Texas Rangers.