Column: Relax, the game will go on

“The one constant through all the years,” Terence Mann says in “Field of Dreams,” “has been baseball.”

Since last autumn, baseball has constantly made headlines – at times for uplifting and emotional reasons, and at times for simmering realities that have made us question the game’s morals.

The absurd cycle began last October, when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. Then, after all that joy emanated from everyone except Yankee fans, it hit the proverbial fan when the steroid scandal surfaced. Then came the accusations. Then came the denials. Then came the senators and congressmen on their donkeys and elephants to strike down the baseball stars in their slick suits.

What a shame, then, is this whole debacle. It’s as if all those syringes and creams cancelled out all the joy that the Sox victory created. But as questions of juiced players remain, I’m brought back to “Field of Dreams.”

Mann (played by James Earl Jones in the 1989 flick) lives in a fantasy world, but as opening day arrives; his assertion of constancy is as accurate and relevant as ever. Baseball – with its alternately glorious and inglorious past – has seen its share of absurdity over the past sixth months, but like Larry King and Gloria Gaynor, it will survive.

In fact, it has already survived. It survived the Black Sox scandal. It survived half a century of crippling institutional racism before Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough in 1947. It survived cocaine problems, Pete Rose’s gambling habit and a season-ending strike in 1994. And it will survive the recent strange and disconcerting developments.

Am I a hopeless idealist? Yes. Am I crazy? I hope not. I am not a doctor or lawyer or athlete or politician. I am not qualified to fix the steroid problem. I am just an observer, and the past has taught me that somehow, some way, baseball will endure. Fans are sticking around. Ticket sales are up. Hardball is back in the District. Rivalries are as hot as ever.

David Nelson, owner of Rhino Bar and Pumphouse, a Sox fan sanctuary in Georgetown, is no stranger to steroids. While serving in the Army, he saw several of his peers experiment with the drugs. Soldiers, like athletes, rely on their size and strength.

But, he said, “You’ll never see people being kicked out of the military for doing steroids.” As the spring progresses, the southern Maine native and Red Sox diehard expects big crowds at his bar, which did not allow Yankee fans in during last year’s playoffs.

He acknowledged the problems steroids present and said he does not want to see Barry Bonds break Hank Aaron’s record. However, he does not expect his customers to stop paying attention to baseball.

“I don’t really think it will hurt baseball,” Nelson says of steroids. “I don’t think baseball thinks it’s going to hurt them.”

He has a point. For all its feigned outrage, the baseball world probably isn’t too worried, at least if the past is any indication. It’s as if baseball is saying, “Hey, we got through the past century, we can get through this one too.” That arrogance, while infuriating to me, will be accepted by society – if the problem can be fixed. Everyone has an opinion on whether the new drug testing plan will actually work. I really don’t know if it will. After all, the game has never been as pure or pristine as our grandparents or the national media has led us to believe.

But as long as there’s even the tiniest chance that baseball, which is now at its lowest point in decades, will ever reach a similarly spectacular place as it did in 2004, then people will remain interested in the game. Baseball will go on. And no matter what happens, people will remember good things along with the bad.

“This field, this game; it’s a part of our past, Ray,” Mann says to Kevin Costner’s character in “Field of Dreams.” “It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

Ask any Red Sox fan and he’ll explain. Rick Kilpatrick, a GW grad and one of the “K” men who puts up giant Ks for strike outs at Fenway Park, probably isn’t too concerned about steroids at this juncture. During the Sox victory parade, he sat on a boat in the middle of the Charles River, watching the players go by on their own amphibious vehicles. Kilpatrick, a high school teacher and basketball coach from Acton, Mass., isn’t quite ready to move on from the events from the past few months.

“I know this sounds bizarre,” he says, “but I’m not sure I want this season to start yet.” I’m sure most Sox fans feel this way. If time stopped now, if there wasn’t one more opening day, one more season, we’d still be happy.

However, baseball time doesn’t stop, it keeps moving, one glorious or inglorious moment at a time. Who knows if the stature of the game will ever be as high as it was last autumn or as low it seems to be now, but baseball will move on in some form. It will survive.

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