The other day I was lounging in my recliner when my 7 year old tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would play catch with him. I had the slightest hesitation as I was tired from a hard day's work and felt I needed some time to clear my head. As I turned and glanced at him I saw a gleam in his eye that was so irresistible to me that I jumped out of that nice cozy recliner and said "Zack, I would be more than happy to play catch with you."
Zack is my third of three sons that I have coached and taught the game to. My sons are spaced apart far enough to keep me involved with youth baseball for more than 20 years. In fact, when Zack completes Little League, I will have about 24 years in Carson City Little League alone.
As we were playing catch, we talked about the normal things that a 7 year old would talk about such as bugs, boogers, and burps. This was a significant day in my years playing with my kids because on that day, it became apparent to me the impact that this game has on our memories, our thoughts, and our families. My family does baseball like other families do hunting, fishing, or camping. We plan all of our vacations around baseball tournaments or Major League Baseball games.
That day, my son asked me "Dad, what are steroids?" I stopped playing catch and told him that it was something that he should not do. He asked me if he chose to be a "big league" ball player would he have to take steroids. Steroids seem to be the word that our young kids associate with the game of baseball nowadays. That should shock us all and make us all realize the impact our choices have on our youth.
I thought for awhile about what I remember about baseball as a young redheaded boy growing up in Reno. I remember the smell of leather from my first baseball glove that I received from collecting Blue Chip Stamps. I remember the smell and feel of the ash wood from the wooden bats we used and reused by repairing them with screws and electric tape. I remember the terms we used such as "ghost runner," "pitchers mound as good as first," "only left field open" and probably the best, "ball in the sewer is an automatic grand slam."
I remember the television baby sitting me every Saturday morning at 11:15 during the game of the week as Kurt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garagiola explained to me the game of baseball on our brand new Magnavox color television. I remember attending just about every game the Reno Silver Sox played at Moana Stadium and shagging foul balls, which enabled me to watch each game at no charge. I remember my first home run, my first hit, my first strike out, and my first victory as a pitcher. I remember my heroes growing up; Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemete, Tito Fuentes, Harman Killebrew, Pete Rose, just to name a few.
Probably what I remember the most about the game is that baseball gave me a safe haven, a playground, a refuge from things at home that were not always good. Baseball was my guardian at times and raised me by introducing me to limits, boundaries, failure, and getting along with others. As an adult, baseball constantly reminds me that kids still dream and that we as adults should do everything in our power to keep the dream alive by always insisting that they do their best.
With all these memories, I was shocked when my son asked about steroids. I then realized that every media venue dealing with the game relentlessly makes steroids the big issue in baseball today. What sickens me is that a 7-year-old boy realizes that steroids is a part of the same game I have grown to love, coach, teach, and study. I don't want my son's memories of the game to be tainted with steroids, and him to always question if his heroes actually used the "stuff" that make you better than you really are. "Steroids, Steroids, Steroids, Steroids." Enough already.
I truly love this game and worry about what will happen to it if we continue to taint its reputation. We should try as honestly as possible to discuss the issue of steroids, with our children and discourage the use of any substance of any kind to enhance productivity. The game of baseball is much bigger than any record, player, or statistic. It is bigger and better that ESPN and any other media venue that consistently discusses steroids as the big baseball event.
Baseball parents, celebrate your child's participation in the great game of baseball. Remind them that this is a great game and you are proud they participate. Discourage them from substances that are not only illegal but unhealthy. Demonstrate to them character traits that will take them far in life long after they are done playing the game. Teach them to respect the game by keeping it clean. Lastly, if your young child taps you on the shoulder and asks you to play catch, look at the gleam in their eye, pick up your glove and go and go play catch. A parent can learn a lot from a child during this time. I know I did.
• John Simms is a parent, father, son, Carson City Little League coach for 19 years, and a baseball fan. Guy Farmer, whose column normally runs in this space, is on vacation. His column will return next week.