Thursday, July 30, 2009

A real kick in the crotch...


Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew this day was coming. Or something very much like it, anyway. I woke up late, had some lunch, and ran to grab a few things at the grocery. I was, in these moments, blissfully unaware of what awaited me when I tuned in to ESPN Radio. Then I heard those dreaded words. The order of them didn't matter, the context didn't either. The only thing that mattered was that they were all there.

Ortiz.
Ramirez.
Steroids.
Championships.
Tainted.
Liars.
Cheaters.

I am a baseball fan. An unapologetic one. These days, I'm a rare species. It's easy to poke fun at the pastime. Games are too slow. Players have no loyalty. Everybody's juicing. The commissioner's a stooge. The rich get richer and the small markets serve as funnels for the big boys.

I get it. Baseball isn't popular anymore. After today, it isn't hard to see why.

I've been a Red Sox fan since I was ten years old. If you know me, you know the story. Nomar was a rookie shortstop, I was a shortstop in Little League. I love the way he hit. A lot of doubles, high average, like me. Since that time, I have followed the Sox passionately. I was amazed by Pedro's run of brilliance from '98-'00, died a little inside when Aaron Boone went yard in '03, fell into the depths of despair (and was later rescued) during the "Bill Mueller" game, followed the same pattern in '04 on the way to the first title in my (and many other's) lifetime, and watched again in '07 when Josh Beckett cemented his postseason legend.

I love this team. And for years, I was convinced that they alone had remained clean during the infamous "steroids era." Manny has always been kinda pudgy, I'd say. Ortiz looks like a teddy bear, he can't be using. Now, both have been outed as users as more leaks have sprung from the 2003 list that outed A-Rod. These guys are Red Sox legends, the kind of players you stand in your back yard impersonating the stances and swings of. So what do I do now that I know that they were very likely cheating when they won the franchise's only two championships of the last 90 years? I wish I could be like some who say they're Brett Favre- level bored of hearing about steroids in baseball, that everybody was using except for Griffey, Maddux, and Ripken, and that we should all just move on. I wish I could, but then , I've called for Barry Bonds' records to be expunged from the books, for A-Rod's and Giambi's MVPs to be revoked, for year-long bans for anyone caught using anything resembling anabolic steroids. And now two of my top-ten favorite players of my lifetime are cheaters, destroyers of the fabric of the game that I love. So I can't, with any level of honesty, just say, "Oh well, everyone was doing it then, this doesn't affect the way I feel," because it does. Bill Simmons recent column about David Ortiz (back when we could assume that Ortiz's decline was due to age rather than PEDs) says it better than I can.

I'm depressed about all this, of course, but it's not like I'm going to search out another team to root for. Like Nick Hornby says in Fever Pitch, I'm an addict, and because I refuse to acknowledge my addiction as a problem, no matter how much it hurts or embarrasses me, I'm going to keep it up. I can only hope Ortiz quit using when stricter testing was announced (we know Manny didn't) and that by '07 he was clean. That's what we addicts do, we rationalize, using even the most pathetic pieces of minutiae to support what we know is indefensible.

Even though I no longer think of baseball players as the infallible heroes of my youth, I wish I didn't have to think of them as the innocence-destroying harbingers of death of my adulthood. All I need now is for Ted Williams to be uncovered as a coke-dealing pedophile who corked his bat and fought for North Korea during his two military stints to make my day complete.

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