There's nothing quite like going to a Single A baseball game. The price is right, the food is cheap, and the players use the same restrooms as you do. Throw in your pooches, your seven year old daughter, a couple cheap doggie treats from Wally World, and PRESTO - you got one hell of a good time on your busy hands.
Once a year at the home of the Marlins' Single A affiliate The Jamestown Jammers you get to watch eighteen young men play the game of baseball in its most purist form with your beloved butt sniffers. To top it off before the game starts you get to parade your handsome hounds around the infield in hopes of winning the grand prize. This year's Grand Prize just so happened to be a baggie full of doggie bones.
I couldn't help, but laugh; however, deep down inside I was angry that my seven year old daughter was aware of such a thing. I was angry at the players, the owners, and most of all myself. After that moment it had become official that the game I loved, and followed since a kid was once again in serious jeopardy.
You can only hope that someday the players will look back, and realize that it wasn't the game they cheated, but the fans as well. I couldn't help but think of that fourteen year old kid who once walked four miles to watch the Bash Brothers play, because the free ticket he got from his Uncle didn't include B.A.R.T fare. It was the pissed off twenty year old who after the strike of ninety four made a promise to never watch another game, only to break that same promise six years later for his childhood hero.
It was selling all of my personal belongings except for my bed in the spring of two thousand so I could buy Athletics season tickets. After all I was leaving California to start a new career, and wanted to fulfill a childhood dream of living with the team that played such a personal role in my life. It was the magical team of 2001 that I witnessed grow into a great team, and the sadness that followed by being so far away from them for the first time in my life. It was the successful twenty eight year old proud new father who cried like a baby when the Athletics lost game five to Derek Jeter, and the Evil Empire that same year.
So many moments, so many special times. Through the good, and the bad baseball has always been there for me. It's only turned its back on me once, and when it returned I was there to greet it with open arms.
So in the middle of Russell E Diethrick Jr. Park stood a thirty five year old dad with a decision to make, and with the future of baseball on the line it had to be a good one. So here is what I did. I walked into the team shop, and handed the counter guy a fifty dollar bill.
I explained the steroid story to him, and asked him to get some souvenirs together. I also asked if how would go along with my story that Baxie was disqualified for over eating, and the Grand Prizes were now my daughters. Let's just say the counter guy helped save the day, and as he handed me my change I shook my head and thanked him.
I explained to Grace that Bixie's owners over fed him, and that was against the rules. When you break the rules to win in the end you lose.
Yet another magical moment. It worked. It had to plain and simple.
I can never give up on baseball. Giving up on baseball to me would be like giving up on life itself. To some of us baseball is much more than a sport it is a way of life, and when part of your life is broken you must do everything in your power to fix it.
My Grandfather once told me that the game of baseball is so much larger than the players on the field, and that mistakes were god's way of avoiding extra innings. "Let them cheat all they want" he once said. They can change the books, but they will never change the game. He once told me that baseball was his biggest burden, and when he passed away I inherited it.
Like life itself baseball is far from perfect, and those who have been touched by the beauty of this incredible sport can only imagine what life would be like without it. As we passed a table with young prospects Robert Taylor and Skylar Crawford anxiously waiting to sign autographs, I couldn't help but smile. There was no line, and as people passed them by I could tell they were a little nervous. As we approached these two young men dogs in tow they smiled and greeted us like they had known us their whole lives. As they signed our hats we laughed about dogs, and talked about baseball cards.
The future of baseball lies on the shoulders of these two young men, and players on every field from Lake Elsinore to Batavia. I'm sure the pressure of success can be a very heavy burden, and one day they will have to make a decision on how to handle that pressure. You can only hope it will be the right one, because in the end the fans are the ones who pay for them.
Just take a moment to listen to Hank Aaron speak about steroids, and every other player that gets asked the question. They always speak about the impact it has had on the game, the players, and the record books. Never once taking the time to mention the impact it's had on the fans, and that young fourteen year old kid taking that long walk in the same shoes I once did.
I ask you Hank Aaron to stand up, and apologize for them. Let the fans know that he players of the past are more concerned about the impact on fans then an asterisk, tainted records, and the Hall Of Fame. Set the example, and let us know you still care.
Lord knows we still do.