If you love sports and watch sports, sometimes it’s easy to forget that it’s just a game. In the big picture of life it doesn’t really matter. It just seems like it does. Losing a game sucks and I’ve lost plenty. There’s no question about that, but if losing a game is all you ever have to deal with in life, then you are in good shape. I’m reminded of what former Giles High School Football coach Steve Ragsdale told his team after they lost in the State Championship game one year when he told them that this just feels like the worst day in your life, but it won’t be and you’ll have much worse.
In recent years my interest in baseball has been rekindled. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always been a great sport but for a few years in the early 2000s, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to it and very rarely watched it I’ll bet you that I watched about one whole inning of a World Series between 2002 – 2005. I can’t give you an explanation for why I zoned out on what was, and will forever be, my favorite sport to play. Growing up, those days of playing baseball in the spring and summer months were the absolute best. Maybe it’s just a byproduct of getting older (notice I’m not willing to concede that I’m old) and having additional responsibilities but thanks to a certain little boy, I’ve come to love the sport again.
My little seven year old nephew absolutely loves baseball. He plays on a rec league team, and will take just about any opportunity to take his bat, ball and glove into the back yard to play. He’s pretty good, also keeping in mind that he’s seven. It’s a reminder that I used to be just like that. In addition to playing, I’d be glued to the television for the old Saturday afternoon game on NBC, or the Monday night game on ABC. Playoff time, and I was there. I live several hours away now and that creates an obstacle to seeing him play most of the time. I try to catch at least one game a year (and yes, I also try to catch his older brother playing Soccer at least once a year because that’s his love and while it’s not my sport, it’s his and there’s nothing wrong with that), and a couple of Saturdays ago I made my way to Virginia for his game. It was there I got the reminder that this is just a game and these kids are playing it for the love of it.
If you watch any Major League games you can lose sight of the fact that it’s just a game. Each year we are bombarded with those whose desire to win is so great that they’ll cheat to do it. There is never an excuse for cheating. Yes, you may lose, but you will have lost by playing fair and that’s a lesson that all kids need to learn. You earn your way in life by putting in the work it takes to be a success. There will always be those who seem to have it easy and we all compare ourselves to others, but everyone has a journey that it is uniquely theirs and I dare say that no one’s journey is every easy. Life just isn’t designed that way.
Most of the attention in the Major Leagues is focused on star players sometimes acting like complete turds or those who feel they need to “juice” themselves up with Performance Enhancing Drugs to get a competitive edge. Just this week Washington Nationals player Bryce Harper – who is arguably one of the two best players in the game right now – drew a one-game suspension for coming back onto the field after the game was over and after having been previously ejected and telling an umpire to “F” himself. Dude, you are one of the best players in the game. I understand that emotions get the best of all of us sometimes, but instead of simply acknowledging his mistake and sending a message to little boys and girls across the country that there are consequences to your actions, Harper is appealing. I’ll be shocked if that appeal goes anywhere. If I were his agent, I would tell him to stand up at a press conference, apologize, tell everyone he’s trying to do better and tell all those little boys and girls who look up to you that he made a mistake and that he’ll accept his punishment. I think parents call that a teaching moment. My guess is that he will not do that.
Likewise, this season seven MLB players have drawn lengthy suspensions for violating MLB’s drug policy. Let’s be honest, MLB players have been “juicing up” forever, but for most of that time the league looked the other way because the balls flying out of the ballpark was what the game needed. MLB was coming off a disaster of a 1994 season when the balance of the season, playoffs and World Series was cancelled. That left many fans disenchanted with the game. They became interested again in 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa (two guys that we now know were juicing) took aim at Roger Maris’s single season home run record. MLB needed the attention and needed to put butts in the seats and eyes on the television.
In the early 2000s, the game had no choice but to do something due to all the bad publicity tainting the game. Especially troubling was the performance of several former players before a congressional committee. Roger Clemens testifying that someone “misremembered”; Mark McGwire refused to talk about the “past” and suddenly Sammy Sosa couldn’t speak English. It was a joke and it looked that way.
In January 2004, MLB instituted a drug policy that included random off-season testing and suspensions. A first time offense drew 10-days, a second offense 30 days, a third offense 60 days, and the 4th time a year long suspension. Under pressure from Congress (probably due to the Clemens, McGwire and Sosa clown show), the players and owners agreed to modify the penalty structure such that the first offense drew 50 games, a second offense 100 games and a third offense a lifetime ban. The penalty structure was modified again in 2014. Now a first offense equals an 80 game suspension, a second offense a 162 game (or full season) suspension and a third offense a lifetime ban. Regardless of when the suspension occurs, the suspended player is not eligible for the post-season. This year New York Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejia has received a lifetime ban; Cleveland outfielder Abraham Almonte received an 80-game suspension; Philadelphia pitcher Daniel Stumpf received an 80-game suspension; Chris Colabello of the Toronto Blue Jays also received 80 games; Miami’s all-star second baseman Dee Gordon drew 80 games, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Josh Ravin received 80 games, and just this week Kansas City Shortstop Raul Modesi, Jr. received an 80 game suspension. Almost to a fault every suspended player claims that they didn’t know there was a banned substance in the item they were taking. That may be true – I suspect it’s not – but you are an adult and before you put something in your body, you should know what it contains. MLB teams pay a pretty penny to trainers, doctors and nutritionists so when in doubt ask. All of these suspensions are without pay.
New York Yankees player Alex Rodriguez sat out the entire 162 game 2014 season on a suspension. He was clearly caught cheating and continues to deny it tarnishing his reputation and his chance at the Hall of Fame. My absolute favorite however has to be the suspension given to former player Manny Ramirez who was suspended for taking a women’s fertility drug. I guess he was planning on getting pregnant and wanted multiple births?
All of which brings us back to the “sandlot” where on a random Saturday morning, it’s just a game. It’s simply just kids playing a game they love and for nothing more than the love of the game. On my nephew’s team stands a perfect example of perseverance. I won’t use his name because I don’t have his parents permission to do so, but last fall this little guy was diagnosed with Gilliam-Barre Syndrome, a bad neurological disease for which there is no cure. Gilliam-Barre attacks the muscles causing weakness and can even lead to paralysis. This kid was confined to a wheel chair for months and while he still has trouble walking and running, he’s out there playing just to play a game and doing so with a smile on his face. That will put things into perspective in a hurry. So, why do people like me bitch about nothing? And, why if this kid can go out and despite his obstacles play baseball, can a seemingly able-bodied middle age man claim he’s disabled and ask the Government for a free check he’ll spend at the local Wal-Mart.
While I detest the soccer moms of the world and the fact that everyone gets a trophy, I suggest that if you ever need to be reminder of sports place in life, you walk down to the local ball field and just watch for a while. Yes, you’ll have to tune out the parents who always know more than the coaches, but watch these little kids remind us that it’s just a game and should always remain that way.