Wednesday, April 26, 2006

We Want Our Hero

Anyone who reads the newspaper or watches the news is well aware of the latest attempt by a federal grand jury to implicate Barry Bonds and his cohorts in Major League Baseball's growing steroid scandal. This issue is causing waves of shock and disappointment among baseball fans across the nation. Everywhere, except here.

The local news in the San Francisco Bay Area is noticeably devoid of in-depth coverage on this issue. From national news, I know it is a big deal, but here, it is markedly played down. Only very short spots on the news channels report the progress in the case. Print articles are small, and often relegated to lesser-read areas of the newspaper. What should be the biggest scandal that Major League Baseball has ever seen is almost non-existent in the San Francisco Bay area, for one reason alone.

We want our hero.

Make no mistake, Barry Bonds is one of the greatest ever to play this game. His incredible hand-eye coordination, superior ability to read the ball and jump on mistakes, and blindingly fast bat speed are all a part of the great machine that is Barry. Steroids or not, these qualities would still be present. They cannot be artificially induced.

It is alleged that a wide number of baseball greats and mediocres alike have partaken in these banned substances. It is also alleged that Barry Bonds was one of those who systematically broke the rules of the league in utilizing artificial means of performance enhancement.

We should be outraged by this. Steroids is cheating, and cheating is wrong. When athletes compete, we fans expect that they do so to the best of their natural abilities; by working hard, keeping healthy, practicing, and partaking only in those supplement regimes that are permitted by the league. Anything more than this is reprehensible. But the San Francisco fans seem to be systematically turning a blind eye to the possibility that Barry partook in this evidently widespread breach of the rules.

Why ? We want our hero ! No player since the great Willie Mays and Willie McCovey has singlehandedly captivated this city and exalted the Giants to contender status in such a decisive way. One of the greatest personal experiences in all the games I've ever attended was the one that Barry broke the single-season home run record. Nobody in attendance gave a damn that he is widely disliked throughout the league for having a prickly personality. And this personality quirk was completely absent when he broke down in tears at the podium during the ceremony after the game. Nobody in those stands, nobody who chanted "Barry ! Barry ! Barry !", cared about anything except the great accomplishment of their hero. He was an idol then, as he is now, in the hearts and minds of almost every San Francisco Giants fan.

We want to see home runs. We want to see Splash Hits, the famous name for right-field homers that end up in the murky waters of the Bay. When Danny yelled "Keep using the cream !" in the stands at a recent game, he was only half-joking. The fans want to see Barry hit. That is what makes the game great. That is what puts everyone at the edge of their seats, with their $5 hot dogs and $8.25 cups of beer, waiting with bated breath during every Barry at-bat.

Did he actually use steroids ? We don't know. Everyone has their opinion, especially those who may be envious of all that he has done. But if it ever is proven that he did, I somehow have a feeling that the local fans will not be swayed.

No matter that he only has three home runs in the first 21 games of this season. No matter that he noticeably limps and winces in pain, even when making the home run trot. No matter that his aging body may or may not last to break the all-time home run record held by the great Hank Aaron. He's still a hero. He's still our hero.

No injury, and no scandal, will ever take that away.


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