Major League Baseball loves to invoke tradition, and for many baseball fans there is nothing quite like Opening Day. There’s the memory of those past ones when your father took you to the park. There’s the bright green of the grass, the hopefully blue sky (I can remember a few with rain and even snow), and the unforgettable aromas of hotdogs and pungent mustard.
I remember those Opening Days past fondly, with my Dad sitting there with a scorecard (to this day I have no idea how to “score” a game as he did). I would get the Cracker Jacks (with the much sought after little plastic prize inside), eventually a hotdog slathered in mustard, and a cup of soda that tasted better than any drink I ever had in my life. The crowd roared, Tom Seaver took the mound, and I was in baseball heaven wearing my Mets cap and thinking we would never lose a game all season.
Alas, being a Mets fan is all about reality and the inevitable losses that come with that. This year is no exception for this fan who bleeds orange and blue, but all over baseball there are fans going to parks for Opening Day, especially kids with the same hopes and dreams I once had. Besides the fact that only a few teams are going to go the distance this year, there is word about the new drug policy that will be the toughest ever. MLB really means it this time. Really!
So you have to wonder about the specter of this hanging over the players, knowing that there are going to be much more stringent penalties and consequences that extend into the postseason. How does that sit with a guy like Ryan Braun, the once golden boy of MLB who faces a season of humiliation and anguish? Not only do we have to wonder how his now juiceless body will perform on the field, but there is the psychology that goes much deeper. He is marked now, perhaps for life, though fans are often forgiving over time (think Pete Rose).
The idea of greater penalties is of course necessary, and longer suspensions are also welcome as the MLB Players Association is now in agreement with MLB about the details, with the official announcement forthcoming.
So, as Opening Day comes to America, there is also an awareness by the fans that business is no longer as usual. The blind eye once turned to Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa and their ilk is now wide open and watching closer than Big Brother. There is testing, there are consequences, and the inglorious hall of shame that awaits users.
Kids and their parents want a clean sport. Most players also want one, and the crowd reaction to guys like Braun and Nelson Cruz and other abusers is going to be a clear marker of disapproval. If we can take any comfort on Opening Day 2014, it is that the sport is cleaner and going to get squeaky clean soon enough.
If the suspected ramifications are true (first-time offense-80 game suspension; second offense-162-game suspension; third offense-lifetime suspension) players are going to think twice about rubbing that “crème” on their limbs, taking suspicious cough medicines, or popping pills any stronger than a baby aspirin.
A more efficient carbon isotope testing will be implemented to detect synthetic testosterone. In short, players are going to be monitored more closely and tested frequently, and failure will bring harsh penalties. Players will not only know that they could be jeopardizing a season but maybe a career, and that should get them all thinking and abiding by the rules.
So, go to the ballpark on Opening Day and enjoy the game. Bring the kiddies and bring the wife (as the old Mets song used to tell us), and think that the game is getting back to basics and the way it ought to be played – drug free. This is the best message the MLB can send to the fans, especially the kids who deserve a clean game and players they can look up to and admire again.
Photo credits: AP, USA Today