From the Sidelines: Opening day brings back faith

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Jeremy D. Smith

It was a long winter. It was a very, very long winter chocked full of more Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Senator George Mitchell and Congressional hearings references than anyone wanted to hear.

For me, it was little short of painful watching baseball, my first love, put on display in such a manner that called into question nearly everything good and decent about the game.

It was excruciating watching Mitchell do his best Senator Joseph McCarthy impersonation as he essentially blacklisted player after player with the help of a willing former clubhouse attendant turned stoolie who agreed to sing like a canary in exchange for 15 minutes of fame and whatever else he may have been promised; the extent of which may not ever fully be known.

Kirk Radomski named names and threw player after player under the bus. Whether guilty or not, dozens of current and former big leaguers will carry with them the same scarlet letter which mars Barry Bonds&8217; record-breaking homerun ball.

And why shouldn&8217;t Radomski and Mitchell do what they did? What took place wasn&8217;t a legal proceeding and those involved weren&8217;t guaranteed the luxury of due process which would have accompanied such. So the Mitchell report dropped like an A-bomb, wholly inconsiderate to anyone or anything that may have been in its path, even baseball.

Don&8217;t misunderstand me. I am by no means a Steroid Era apologist. Baseball had or has a drug problem that was left unattended. And athletes who are not policed in any way will almost always work to blacken the eyes of the games they play. Such was the case for baseball.

For all the things he&8217;s accomplished in his career, implementing the current divisional system and wild card playoff format, Bud Selig&8217;s legacy will forever be the Steroid Era. He played the part of Vince McMahon, allowing his performers to dope up in the name of the long ball and ultimately, the almighty dollar. No, Selig didn&8217;t put a needle in anyone&8217;s arm or rub cream on any player&8217;s backside; that we know of. But he did turn a blind eye to it long enough that the entire burden of responsibility can fall solely and squarely on his shoulders.

This egregious lapse in judgment and genuine crime against the game itself will trump the all-star game that ended in a tie and even the strike-shortened season of 1994; both of which occurred under Selig&8217;s watch. What we will remember is this long, cold winter of discontent that bastardized an otherwise beautiful game, crucifying it in the court of public opinion.

But now, winter is over and sanity has paid a surprise visit, hitching a ride on the March winds and exploding onto the field of Nationals Park like the unfortunate bird that happened upon a Randy Johnson fastball.

I tuned in to see if the Atlanta Braves could snag a win on opening against the Washington Nationals and what I found was the innocence of my childhood. I still got the same feeling I enjoyed on summer nights growing up, rooting for my Braves to pull one out.

As Mark Teixeira slugged a double off the wall in the top of the ninth and gave way to Martin Prado at second base, I didn&8217;t think about Mitchell. As Prado came around to score on a Paul Lo Duca passed ball, it didn&8217;t occur to me that the Washington catcher had been implicated in the infamous report. And as Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off shot to once again send the Braves to an opening day defeat, I didn&8217;t wonder if he&8217;d ever had any dealings with Radomski or any of the products the cretin peddled.

I thought only about the simplistic beauty of the game. I thought about how Peter Moylan should have kept the ball down against Zimmerman. I thought about how the bullpen blues still hold residence in the Atlanta clubhouse. I thought about how Bobby Cox looks ancient. Most of all, I thought about how the season is new and the only performance enhancers that matter are the will power to win and the hope of October baseball.

So did the Mitchell report serve to clean up baseball? I don&8217;t know. In all honesty, it may be decades before its full effects are understood. But I know this much. It didn&8217;t destroy the game. When that agonizing winter passed, there was still pitching and hitting and catching and the infield fly rule and most of all, the notion that something magnificent could happen at any time and if you&8217;re lucky, you just might get to see it.

That could be just a nave perspective. But then again, it could just be my view from the sidelines.

Jeremy D. Smith is sports editor for the Demopolis Times. Reach him at 334-289-4017, ext. 317.