Appropriately, I was at a baseball game when Barry Bonds hit his record-breaking 756th home run. I stood and applauded as the announcement lit up the outfield screen at Angel Stadium. What kind of message was I sending my two athletic sons, Matt, 17 and Andy, 15, I wondered. Was I saying I condoned cheating, if indeed, Bonds did use steroids to help him pass Hank Aaron?
I was conflicted and my body was consumed by a halting ache. I love baseball, grew up with a dad who took me to Yankee Stadium, watched Chris Chambliss hit a home run that sent my boyhood Yankees (who were awful) into the World Series in 1976 for the first time in 12 years. My cheering was an inborn reflex, my baseball gene going off, celebrating a baseball milestone.
Thoughts earlier in the week, after Yankee Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th home run, went to May 1967, when me, my sisters and my brother made such a ruckus in the back seat of my father’s Chevy Impala after hearing the call by Phil Rizzuto of Mickey Mantle’s 500th home run on the car radio. We were traveling in the Bronx, a few miles from the stadium, when The Mick hit it and we celebrated right there on Gun Hill Road.
My dad had to pull over or risk an accident.
But there was no such overwhelming emotion Tuesday night. Just a reflex, then a lament followed by doubts and sadness.
Baseball shouldn’t be that way. There’s no joy in wondering if a 10-time millionaire was injecting illegal substances to grotesquely grow his muscles. Baseball should be fun, exciting, a pure escape.
If you’re sick of Barry Bonds and of all the scandals plaguing professional sports, there is an antidote for us fans.
Go to the Little League Western Championships in San Bernardino. See spirited 11- and 12-year-olds play the game (albeit on a lot smaller diamond) with pure passion. Go for the old-fashioned fun and clean atmosphere.
We learned about this from the father of Temple City High School’s star baseball player Mike Mendoza. We’ve gone every year for the past four years to San Bernardino’s Al Houghton Stadium. Admission is free, as is the parking. And the concessions are reasonably priced. You can still find baseball moms and baseball dads making popcorn or cotton candy. And the roasted corn is to die for.
Kids trade Little League baseball pins. Families spread blankets and put up beach chairs in the outfield viewing areas to watch the game. A guy dressed in a clown outfit sells ice cream and entertains the little spectators.
Thursday are the semifinals (games at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and Saturday’s championship game begins at 6 p.m. Winner goes to Williamsport, PA to play in the 2007 Little League World Series. That’s another place all true baseball fans must see.
Left field view of Al Houghton Stadium, San Bernardino.