Friday, February 13, 2009

Designated Steroid User

Major League Baseball’s immersing itself in another hand-wringing episode over steroids and I’m once again left chagrined that my influence is so miniscule.

In fact, since the dog died, I can’t think of a single carbon-based entity that bends at all any of my wise suggestions.

My kids think I’m nuts. My wife tunes me out. My friends, even the drunks, don’t pay my ideas any attention.

Can you believe it?

And, of course, neither does Major League Baseball. That’s a pity because four years ago I offered a sensible compromise solution to the torturous problem of performance enhancing drugs laying waste to long cherished records.

Here it is:

Every Major League Baseball team gets a designated steroid user. As a purist, I’ve always loathed the designated hitter rule. That abomination could be banished and replaced with one player who is sanctioned to take as many performance-enhancing drugs as he can handle without collapsing in the batter’s box from heart failure.

There would be no need to asterisk sacred baseball records because baseball would have created an entirely new category: most home runs by a steroid user.

This would have the added benefit letting the medical community carefully study what happens when players ingest the sort of steroid overdoses that turn lab rats into a tiny Clydesdales.

I saw Barry Bonds play hundreds of games in Pittsburgh back when he was drug-free. The most remarkable change in him, to me, wasn’t the overall body size, but how much larger his head has grown. One book says his hat size grew from 7 1/8 to 7 1/2, a spurt that added an inch in circumferance to his noggin.

Sign him up as a designated steroids user and study the results. Who know? Maybe with prolonged use, maybe his brain will get bigger and bigger, too. Think of the possibilities:

“And in today’s news, Barry Bonds was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize bringing surprising peace to warring parties in the Middle East and between Yankee and Red Sox fans in the American League East.”

Commissioner Bud Selig’s even talking about going over the record book from the past 15 years, in effect wiping away some of my greatest memories from hundreds of games I’ve attended.

If that’s the case, I’m going to have to come up with a whole new non-steroid hightlight reel from those once golden years to replace the counterfeits. So here it is:

• April 8, 1991 -- Fuss bucket property owners erected a 10-foot chainlink fence between Three Rivers Stadium and Zagnuts bar. Our options included walking nearly 100 yards out of the way (unacceptable), waiting for an enterprising fan to shear a hole in the fence (might take hours), or scale the fence after already consuming too many ballpark beers. Three of us made it, but my big buddy Paul snagged his pants on a spur and ripped a hole that went clear from ass to ankle. He begged us to take him home so he could change. We did. Six hours and about four bars later.

• May 20, 1991 -- Many devoted baseball fans go their entire lives without ever snagging a foul ball. I caught one about two hours after my friends ridiculed me for giving $5 to a homeless man whose sign said “God Will Bless You For Your Donation.” My blessing ricocheted off a facade and came like a laser right between my eyes. I was holding a beer right handed and deftly caught the sizzler with my left. Didn’t spill a drop. The stadium erupted in cheers. Catching just one foul ball is one of the great tiny joys in life.

• Sept. 30, 1992 -- I used my newspaper press pass to gain free admission for me and three buddies into a playoff game. Then I took our four tickets, scalped them for an indecent profit and used the same press pass to get back in again for free. The ethics of this chicanery are, I admit, shameful. But so is charging me and my thirsty buddies up to $7.50 for a glass of beer so I have no regrets.

• June 20, 1993 -- We saw Barry Bond’s future ex-wife, the lovely Sun Bonds and Barry’s children, buying nachos at a Three Rivers concession stand with a microscopic portion of the $20 million or so Bonds was earning to play baseball. She fumbled a quarter and two dimes that fell into the filth at her feet. We watched in amazement as she ordered one of the kids to dig through the slop to get the change. Paul said, “Now be sure to give that to your Daddy.”

• May 17, 1994 -- I caught another foul ball.

• July 7, 1997 -- We heckled N.Y. Mets ballplayers and Dwight Gooden, Bobby Bonilla and Vince Coleman with such profane vigor that the trio of felonious bums actually looked up from the dugout, pointed and laughed at us. I don’t remember a single thing I said, but it was the only time in my life when I’ve understood the religious phenomenon of people speaking in tongues.

• August 26, 1999 -- I snagged my third foul ball.

• Sept. 24, 2003 -- I met my father for a Pirate game at Atria’s, a great bar in PNC Park, the Pirates shiny new stadium. We shook hands and made small talk with Steeler great Franco Harris who was in the bar being a friendly legend. After that I figured out a way to sneak into the new ballpark that we’d thought was impregnable to ticket cheats like me and my dad. It was the last ballgame I ever saw with Dad. There’s something about sneaking in that makes a $7.50 beer taste better.

And I can’t forget to mention Sept. 28, 2000. It was three days after the birth of our daughter, Josie, and the second to last ball game in the history of Three Rivers Stadium (yep, I attended the last one, too). My wife was furious.

My brother Ronald said, “I can’t believe you went to a baseball game three days after your first child was born.” I rationalized it by saying, “Hey, it was souvenir snowglobe night.”

He understood.

I’m staring at that lovely little snowglobe on my desk as I finish up this post. It means a lot to me.

Sure, it doesn’t consider any of my suggestions, but it’s never sassed me, either.

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