I love baseball; it is the sport I grew up watching and playing. There is something about baseball that reminds me of a carefree time when I was a 22-3 ace in my neighborhood tennis ball league. I remember cutting the bushes on the side of my friend’s house so that it was a perfect replica of the outfield wall at Wrigley Field (or at least it looked like it to us). And I remember how excited I was when I finally got the 1986 Fleer card that completed my collection of every single Darryl Strawberry card there was. And how great Sunday mornings were when my parents would take me to the North Point flea market to pickup cards of my favorite players.
But now I am a broken sports fan. Now baseball doesn’t feel carefree. Baseball feels dirty and grownup. The outing of steroid abusers feels a bit like the curtain has been pulled back and we can see what the wizard looks like, and he isn’t the majestic projection we once believed he was. With a different star being revealed as a steroid user, the dark side of baseball is put on full display on an almost monthly basis. How can a ten year old kid go out in his backyard and pretend to be “Big Papi” hitting homers over a make shift “Big Monster” without the thought of steroids somewhere in his consciousness? What player can today’s children look up to without knowledge that they have cheated? Brian Roberts was caught using steroids for goodness sake.
The boom of the internet and 24 hour reporting hasn’t helped to keep the image of the modern baseball player unspoiled either. There were certainly players using performance enhancing drugs and doing unsavory things in the past, but today’s need-to-print-the-most-salacious story possible has led to the airing of every player’s dirty laundry on the most public of clotheslines. The fact that sports reporters have become a form of private investigators does not give players a free pass for the mistakes they make. In the end the player, not the reporter, has broken the law and muddled the sanctity of America’s Pastime.
At the stadium things are just as grim. I remember walking down to the railing in front of the field and getting autographs and talking baseball with my heroes like Randy Milligan (I was a huge Moose Milligan fan as a kid) and Elrod Hendricks. And then future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken would stay for well over an hour after games to make sure every kid in the stadium not only left the game with an autograph but maybe even more importantly, a memory.
Last season I watched Alberto Castillo walk past a group of kids screaming his name without even acknowledging them much less taking the two minutes to give them autographs after a game. And for the 94% of you who don’t know, Alberto Castillo is a thirty-four year old relief pitcher who has a record of 1-0 in 32 career games for the Orioles.
I must admit Camden Yards has a lot of cool stuff for kids to do while they are at the stadium such as a playground and fireworks after the game. But wouldn’t it be more advantageous to engross kids with the actual game and player interaction than a bunch of things ancillary to the game? You don’t teach a kid how to love reading by having them play dodge ball and tag in a bookstore.
I love baseball, it is a sport that has taught me so many life lessons and helped me form lifelong friendships. I just fear that the indifference the players show kids is going to prevent so many potential young fans from having the same love affair with baseball I have had for twenty some years.