Falling back in love with baseball

10 years ago, I had my heart ripped out and trampled on by Aaron Boone in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Fresh off my 10th birthday, I BELIEVED the Boston Red Sox were going to win the World Series for the first time since 1918. I stayed up well past my bedtime to watch every game. Game 7 is still deeply rooted inside my brain because of my emotional investment in that team. The Red Sox were 6 outs away from the World Series with a 5-2 lead. Grady Little then left Pedro Martinez in the game too long and everything soon unraveled. It was topped off by Boone’s walk off in the 11th inning.

One year later, I was overjoyed when I heard Joe Buck exclaim “Back to Foulke! Red Sox fans have longed to hear it! The Boston Red Sox are World Champions!” I felt like I was a part of this team. This group of idiots. I loved  this team and I loved this game. The Red Sox won another World Series in 2007… but I just really didn’t care. The short gap between titles made it less special than the 2004 title, but that wasn’t why I didn’t care.

In 2005 the first wave of suspensions for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) swept through baseball in the majors and the minors. I started to grow cold to the game I loved. Everyone was trying to beat the system.  In 2007, the same year the Sox would win their second World Series in 4 years, Sen. George Mitchell had released his findings on PED use in MLB. It was merely a confirmation of bigger rumors that had already been buzzing around for years. Mitchell released a list of names. A list of cheaters. Among them were many of the game’s biggest stars from my childhood.  Barry Bonds,  Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Andy Pettite, and Roger Clemens just a few of the many that were indicated to have used performance enhancing drugs.

I thought the Mitchell Report was the peak of my disappointment but I was wrong. In 2009, The New York Times reported that Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz had tested positive for banned substances in 2003. This was what rock bottom felt like as a young fan. My two favorite players… cheaters… The most destructive duo in baseball in the early 2000s wasn’t doing it honestly. My heroes were allegedly just a pair of sham. I was angry. I was sad. I felt betrayed. I made a sign for Manny Ramirez when he came to play in Arlington. He threw me a ball. THIS is how he paid me back for my support? I hadn’t managed to watch an entire baseball game on television since 2007. This news in 2009 made me question if I’d ever even watch a MLB game again.

Here I sit. 2013. I just watched Koji Uehara strike out Matt Carpenter for the final out of the World Series, the Red Sox 3rd title in 10 years. I wasn’t overjoyed like I was in 2004, but I couldn’t help but smile as the team I loved as a boy celebrated like children. It may not have meant as much as 2004, but it meant more than the World Series in 2007. I hadn’t watched a complete baseball game since 2007 until the end of last year as I watched the Sox struggle under Bobby Valentine. I watched a handful this season. I watched heavily this postseason. I even found myself getting emotionally invested in a few games. I yelled at the TV when game three ended with the obstruction call… And tonight, I cracked a smile when I watched Koji throw that final pitch.

In the last 4 years, I guess I’ve had time to reflect and to heal. I’ve thought about the fallout from PED use a lot, especially in the last few months. What I’ve realized is that perhaps my disappointment was misguided. Ortiz was never actually suspended. He denied ever taking anything illegal. People outside Red Sox Nation will think I’m stupid, but now I’m believing that Big Papi has done it all honestly. I should have stuck by him. Even if he didn’t do it naturally, like my biggest hero of all, Manny, I still shouldn’t have let it sour the game I loved. The bottom line is that no matter how high of a pedestal we put these stars on, they’re still human. They’re prone to moments of bad judgment just like all of us. They’re deserving of the same forgiveness that we seek for our poor choices. For every cheater, there’s several guys who are doing it honestly and that has to be admired.

Baseball is too great of a game to let some truly great athletes’ poor choices ruin it. I feel foolish that I’ve missed the better part of 6 seasons now. I’m not saying that I’ll ever be the super fan I was as a kid. I don’t know if that hurt will ever fully go away… but I am trying very hard to love the game like I did as a kid. I’m not there yet, but I want to be. I don’t know what the next few seasons hold, but I’m all in. “America’s Pastime” is starting to feel like past times for me. Thanks 2013 Red Sox for reminding me why I loved this game so much and congratulations on another World Series.

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