Blog: The Purest Game

The "Steroid Era" in baseball came to an end on November 13, 2009, the day my son said he wanted to learn how to play the game.

The World Series was over by then and baseball had gone into its long winter hibernation, though for the first time in Major League Baseball history, the series had managed to sneak beyond September due to rain delays and scheduling for an attempt at inflating the ratings.

The Yankees, who hold more World Series crowns than any team in history, were a fitting champion for this first November series and it was with some irony that they’s managed to do it with Alex Rodriguez, who the preceding spring was probably the most prominent player in the big leagues to be outted for steroid use. Supposedly this year, the Yankees won … and they won clean.

Professional baseball has been falling on its own pine-tar bat for almost two decades, abdicating its claim as national pastime to another sport, football, and the slow decline has as much to do with the strike in the 1994-1995 season as it does with what fans perceived as cheating on the field.

Over the last year, the league has instituted testing policies for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. The penalties are now stauncher, so baseball has quietly begun a return to a more respectable place where the players aren’t cheating and the talent on the field is real.

What happens in the majors, though, should not spoil the game of baseball for anyone. Astronomical salaries, players who go about the game and their lives with a sense of entitlement, minor injuries that sideline players for weeks, big-name players who don’t slide into second to break up double plays and who instead pull up and jog into centerfield to avoid risking injury.

In my book, the end of the steroid era isn’t due to the policies and punishments enacted by Commission Bud Selig, team owners, and the Player’s association, but to my boy’s announcement – because, for me, the possibilities for him and for the game seem to be at a new beginning. At the tee-ball level, baseball is still an innocent sport and for the first time that I can remember in my lifetime, my son might be able to make his way through his playing career without the risk of having to shoot up to stay competitive.

Since last fall, our dining room table has been lined with fresh-oiled ball gloves wrapped in rubber bands. We’ve been playing ball indoors since January with a foam bat and ball, using corners and door frames and planters for bases. And when the weather broke last weekend, we found an abandoned ball diamond on a corner lot in a neighborhood that was built when baseball was the national pastime, and families grilled out and watched their kids through chain-link perspectives swing and round the bases to beat the throws.

The career college sector has done its share of bulking up in the last decade, though it has done so fairly, within the realm of the established guidelines set out by the Department of Education and various accreditation agencies. Private equity is one way it’s manage its substantial growth, but in order to attract money from the private sector, innovation has to come first, and in the career education sector it came in massive quantities.

Career training-oriented colleges were the first to embrace online education when other sectors of higher education thought it to be a joke. Convenience was at the root of that innovation and flexibility became the answer to what so many students wanted: learning institutions that made it convenient to earn a degree. This was another real way the sector discovered to be more relevant to people and to make a different in their lives.

Despite the honest approach, career colleges have been subject to even more scrutiny and rule changing. The sector’s successes have been met with assertions that the degrees are worthless, that online education delivery is flawed, that the jobs don’t pay off for students in the long run, and so on. For every school that might have bent a rule, there are hundreds more that didn’t and thousands of students whose lives have been improved in career fields the naysayers have never considered – and they are filled by real people.

Career colleges, it would seem, have been robbed of any purity they might have had. Memories of the neighborhood technical institutes for business careers that thrived through 50s and 60s are as long gone as DiMaggio. Image-wise, today’s schools are portrayed in the traditional media as greedy short-cuts to low-end careers, and the tragedy is that it’s not by their own hand. They haven’t injected, juiced the ball, used a cork bat, or filed a single pitch with sandpaper. Their grievance is success.

I submitted an application to coach my son’s team in some capacity this spring. Whether it’s in the main role or as an assistant, I’ll be on the field with him, and my philosophy will the same as a good friend’s who coached for years: have fun, learn the game, and win … in that order. The fun is in playing the game the right way and seeing your true abilities play out on the field. When you’re having fun and playing the game loosely, good things tend to happen. This is the way career educators approached their business and, no matter what negativity comes their way, they shouldn’t let any forces from the outside get them to change their approach or think too much about the game.

By Kevin Kuzma

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