Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Way It Should Be

“There are 25 players with 500 or more home runs in their career. They’ve been playing professional baseball almost 150 years now. Have you ever thought about it? We’ve seen about 10 of those players play.” Darius reached for his calculator. “That’s 40% of the top home run hitters for all time! They’ve been playing during our time.” Jacob frowned at him. He seemed to be considering there must be something more to be said. They were only 11 year old boys, but they already had a good idea about things especially since they listened regularly to sports talk radio programs. “Jacob, I know what you want to say. So why don’t you?” Jacob walked over and took the Baseball Record book off the porch step where Darius had laid it aside. “The pitchers are tainted too, you know. There were a few of them mentioned in that Mitchell report” Jacob replied as he walked back across the porch and plopped the large book on the table and took a seat. “Yeah Jakee, they ought to cross reference all the records with the Mitchell report. Maybe we can just have an on-line version of this book with all players who’ve been identified as steroid users listed in bold red.” Jacob laughed but it was the kind of laugh that someone might use to hide uncomfortable feelings. Suddenly Jacob picked up the book and flung it over the porch railing and out into the garden. “The book isn’t worth 50 cents now. All this time we’ve spent going over these records, we could have done something more useful, you know?“ Darius couldn’t believe it, yet there were actually tears in his friend’s eyes. “It doesn’t matter who is going to break the record next time because there will always be a question mark. There’s always going to be someone who would say the record was created by cheaters. Now it turns out that your hero A-Roid is the biggest cheater! You know what I mean too. I’m talking about the kind of person who cheats and lies about it.” Darius smiled at this friend’s rant. He would agree it was worth taking seriously. “Jacob, give it up, there’s nothing a couple of boys can do about this.”

It had all started with McGwire. Jacob’s father had been obsessed with the subject. When McGwire broke the single season home run record in 1998, had been some talk about steroids, but nobody cared about it then. They just wanted to see Mr. Big Mac hit the long home runs and do the impossible. Ok, so one day that whole thing was over and McGwire’s name goes in the record book and nobody’s talking about steroids any more. In fact, they were saying the McGwire had saved the game. Attendance was up every where and baseball had become popular again. Everyone wanted to see what McGwire and his sidekick happy Sammy was going to do next. Jacob’s father was a Giants fan. “Barry Bonds is a complete player. He deserves that record more than McGwire!” Jacob’s father said that and there were other people saying that too. Barry Bonds must have felt it in his bones and it must have given him a headache to think about it. So Barry grew bigger and stronger, and he took that record back and then he took Ruth’s record for left-handed hitters and finally he took Aaron’s spot as the career leader in home runs. It was the kind of thing that seemed too good to be true and so the whole argument started up again once there were some allegations of steroids attaching to Barry. It was an unfortunate choice, but it seemed that one would have to accept steroids as part of the game or go against the home town hero Barry Bonds. Once the story broke wide open with charges filed against Bonds by the Federal Government and then the Mitchell report, it was all a done deal. We were all living in the Steroids Era and the home run records had suffered a major case of inflation.

“Ok then Jacob, lets just give up on it. We can still play ball ourselves. Forget about the major leagues.” Jacob came back across the porch and stood between Darius and his front door. “Nope, I’m not playing ball today. I feel more like throwing up than playing baseball right now. See you later.” Jacob went inside the house without saying another word and left his friend standing there. Darius looked at the door, which at this moment seemed more shut than a door could ever be. Jacob could be moody sometimes. Darius looked out in to the garden and saw the Baseball Record book. “Should I get it?” he thought. “When the sprinklers come on, it will get soaked.” Darius turned and walked down the porch steps. One last look at the book that had meant so much to them and then he turned walked toward home. He was thinking to himself about the incredible irony of how the book would get soaked and how those home run records in the book were totally useless any old way.

There was an old man standing across the street and partially hidden under the sycamore tree. He wore blue jean suspenders and floppy straw hat which hid his face from the sun and also from anyone who might have been curious. He looked sort of like a gardener or maybe something more heavy duty like a farmer perhaps? At any rate, the old man walked across the street and stepped carefully into the garden. He reached down and picked up the book. The pages which carried the home run records had been smashed into the dirt since Jacob had not even bothered to close the book before hurling it. “So this will be Grand Pa’s book for now” the old man mumbled. Grand Pa carefully smoothed the bent pages out as best he could and then he closed the book. He didn’t blame the kids for feeling the way they did but there was one thing they were wrong about. There was something to be done about it after all. It just takes patience and strong belief in something that is more important than these men who had tainted the game. The Black Sox had done the same thing in Grand Pa’s day. That was way back in 1919 and as with most things about baseball you could go to the records and look it up if you want to know more about it. Grand Pa was a 714 man, which meant that “The Great Bambino” was his hero. Babe Ruth had made everyone forget about the Black Sox and the gamblers who had tried to use the sport for their own personal gain. But he respected the 755 man too, especially now when the men who hold the important records are not made of the same flesh and blood like a normal person. These men too, they had been trying to use the sport for personal gain just like the shameful Black Sox. Ah, this was a quandary. At what point to go back? There could only be one chance to do this and he hoped it would get it right.

That night the wind was blowing hard. It was early spring in California and sometimes the April winds blew hard and cold. It was really just perception and expectation of spring warmth unfulfilled. Grand Pa could never get used to California. That’s why he hadn’t come out to this part of the world until now. To his mind, major league baseball didn’t even belong in California. But this where Barry hit number 762 and Jacob was there to see the whole thing. The poor boy had been bewildered by the whole thing with accusations flying around and denials flying around the accusations. Well Grand Pa was no longer real either but he’d seen their anguish and now he was worried that they boys might give up on the game that had been handed down with love through the generations. Grand Pa had been conjured to California and he was called into being by the abandoned hopes and dreams that had nowhere else to turn. Think about it. These dreams were the stuff that made boys run and stretch out their gloves and dive in the dirt or across the tall grass. These dreams made a boy reach back for something extra on a fastball or cock their bat with determination to drill the next pitch. Without these dreams to feed them, the magic of baseball would surely be starved out of existence.

Grand Pa seemed confused of purpose and with the wind blow hard around him, it seemed that he might be swept away. He could since that time was running short. It was midnight in the garden and Grand Pa was thinking, reaching back across time, trying to discover the source. “California, Giants, 1989, the Earthquake: 1989! Of course, that was it!” That was the very year when Grand Pa had ceased to exist. He was 99 years old when he died and he’d dreamed of living to 100 and hoped to see the San Francisco Giants win a World Series. He’d followed the Giants every since the days they were in New York and McGraw was their manager. In 1989, an earthquake occurred right before the start of Game 3 in San Francisco. This was it! Ground zero for the Steroid Era. Those two men, McGwire and Canseco, the ones called the Bash Brothers, they were there that night. These mean with impossibly large forearms, they stood out in a way that should have provoked questions. Weren’t body builders supposed to be too tightly wound up to swing at 90+ an hour pitches? Batters achieved power with quick wrists, coordinated body movement, and sharp eyes. Home runs could not come from muscles alone. Otherwise someone Arnold Schwarzenegger would hold the home run record instead going in to politics.

Suddenly the wind stopped blowing and everything became quiet. Grand Pa carried the book to the porch and placed it on the table. He opened the Baseball Record book and began working. On page 432, he found the 1989 World Series box scores and he carefully erased games 3 and 4. With that, the book quickly began to change itself. In a moment, history was changed. Now the sun was rising and a boy was walking downstairs to check for the morning paper. The paperboy was coming down Garrett Ranch Court and lazily weaving from house to house and throwing newspapers. There wasn’t time left for Grand Pa to find out what had happened in Game 3 of the 1989 World Series. The tragic winds that had brought him were now dissipated and once again Grand Pa ceased to exist. But there on the porch was the gift he left. It was the Base Ball Record book with the Steroids Era completely erased, and now the dawn of new and better world. The way it should be.

The End

Created by Bill Keys

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