by Rodimus Dunn
In just about one month everything will come to a screeching halt. The sports world as we all know it will be fully nonexistent for almost 3 months. By mid June the NBA Finals will be over and the only thing left for the world is baseball, tennis, and NFL labor disputes. Yuck. This is a problem because not only has society almost passed baseball by completely, but also because the sport is absolutely dying. Summer used to be my favorite sports months of the year … not so much anymore. Baseball needs a savior BADLY!
I feel horrible about baseball being on its way to hell because it used to be my favorite sport by far. I’m old enough to remember listening to baseball on the radio, when Opening Day was considered a holiday, and when the Home Run Derby was legendary (the classic black and white tv show featuring all-time greats competing was a can’t miss program for all baseball fanatics). Nothing was better than saving up enough money to buy a pack of Topps or Donruss baseball cards with the hard as cement stick of bubblegum inside. Trying to get your favorite players’ rookie card was a quest that every boy went through, and the day it finally happened was better than Christmas. I was lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with a lot of guys my age, so we traded cards regularly. We debated who had a better collection, who had the most cards, and who would get the lucky pack that contained nothing but All Stars (as an adult I’m pretty sure no such pack existed).
I played baseball as a youth with neighborhood kids and sometimes by myself. Whose batting style would be imitated this time around? Gary Sheffield’s back and forth bat wiggle, Griffey Jr’s graceful uppercut, Molitor’s all arms and no legs attack, Ripken Jr’s bat facing the umpire, or Mattingly’s almost squatting down approach. Of course we did the same thing with our favorite pitchers. Hershiser, Maddux, Cone, Doc Gooden, Mussina, Pedro, or Fernando. We all could throw like Clemente, dive and recover like Ozzie, or throw across the diamond side armed like Cal. Baseball was the coolest thing ever because everyone could be their favorite guy all at the same time.
As I got into my teens and 20’s I still loved baseball. My zeal for such things as the All Star Game and Home Run Derby waned, but I still watched Braves games on TBS all year long. The voices of Atlanta’s broadcasters Pete van Wieren and Skip Carey are permanently etched into my brain. I watched every playoff game, and of course I never missed a pitch of the World Series. My favorite players of all time were Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. It was incredible that neither guy threw in the 90’s, but they still won at a ridiculous clip. Maddux would pitch people inside and outside, high and low with four different pitches, and it was like watching a surgery. Glavine threw 90 percent of his pitches low and away at middling speeds, but still somehow won 2 Cy Young awards and over 300 games. I loved watching these guys pitch, and even when I started to like baseball less and less I still watched these two religiously. Eventually baseball got passed in my hierarchy by football, and basketball, but thank God for Maddux and Glavine; the link to my love of baseball from by youth.
2009 was a dark year for my love of baseball. Maddux and Glavine stopped playing after the end of the 2008 season, and all anyone talked about was performance enhancement. Yes it was great to watch Pujols bat, but it wasn’t something one would drop anything they were doing to watch. I didn’t watch the All-Star Game, Home Run Derby, or care about who would win the postseason awards. The Yankees winning the World Series with liar and cheater Alex Rodriguez leading the way helped to cap a terrible season. Baseball was on life support in my life and in society.
Everything bad about the 2009 season was completely forgotten on June 8, 2010. Stephen Strasburgh debuted for the Washington Nationals, and baseball finally mattered again. I didn’t give a lick about the Nats and their crappy franchise, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of Strasburgh. Nothing about baseball was a must see, except for this otherworldly 21 year old. Would I drop everything to watch him pitch a half inning? Absolutely. Would I literally watch a whole baseball game if he was pitching? Absolutely. Did all of that remind me of how much I loved baseball as a youth? Absolutely. Baseball had its savior, and as much as it mattered to me, it mattered more to society. Moribund teams would have sellouts when #37 took the mound, ESPN televised games involving the Pirates, Marlins, Royals, and baseball analysts were all reinvigorated. It didn’t matter if you were an old school baseball purist or a stat geek, Strasburg passed the test. All the excitement wouldn’t have mattered if the outcome was poor; the results were amazing. Baseball had been resurrected.
On August 27, 2010 baseball died again. The Nationals announced that Strasburg needed Tommy John Surgery and would be out for 12-18 months. All of baseball’s buzz was gone, it was almost like attending a funeral. Why even spend 3 hours watching this stuff anymore? Why should I let my walls down again and pretend like I still care? I felt like a jilted lover. Strasburg will come back in 2012, but he’ll probably never be the same again (see Kerry Wood for a good example). Baseball’s savior came, stayed far too short, then left … with no promise to return. I want to believe again one day, but I think it’s too late. The magical memories sports can provide for my offspring will probably be of football. I understand that Maddux and Glavine “aren’t walking through that door,” because they’re both in their mid forties, but unfortunately baseball probably isn’t either.