The Little League World Series is now on TV, and besides watching the game, the part that interests me the most is the children telling us who their favorite baseball player is before every game. My favorite player when I was in Little League was Mark Grace. His great fielding skills (he won four Gold Gloves), reliability at the plate and even his batting stance influenced how I played the game as a child.
I always wore the number 17 and even emulated Grace’s friendly and humorous attitude on and off the field. I did look up to Grace as role model, and I’m sure a lot of kids playing Little League now feel the same way about their favorite player as well.
But the scandals that have popped up over the past few years are destroying the idea of athletes as role models.
My role model wasn’t ruined by steroids in his career but by alcoholism after his retirement. Grace has been arrested three times for drunk driving, and it has cost him his announcing job with Fox Sports and the Arizona Diamondbacks, and respect from me. I know first-hand how damaging a DUI can be. It tore apart my family and has created lifetime grudges I’ll never lose.
This may have happened many years after he and I both played baseball, but, in a silly way, I still felt betrayed. I know it’s unrealistic and unfair to hold people to impossible standards, but public figures, especially athletes, do have a duty to be role models, whether they like it or not.
As my tolerance for watching the Cubs lose began to wane, I began shopping around the league for other teams or players to watch. That’s when an athletic, but not overly-built third baseman out of the University of Miami was drafted fifth overall by the Milwaukee Brewers. His name was Ryan Braun.
Braun had everything you wanted from a baseball player. He could hit 30-plus home runs and drive in 100-plus runs in a season and still bat over .300. It was nice to see such a great, young talent arrive on the baseball scene. It was the perfect thing I needed after I chose to stop following the always-failing Cubs.
I went to a few Brewers games, and I even bought a Braun jersey. I had a new reason to appreciate the game. Players like Braun made the game.
My new identity as a fan came at the expense of my friends, who are all Cubs fans. They called me a traitor, and openly talked negatively about Braun in my presence. But I had the last laugh because I could stand behind Braun’s statistics and achievements. No one could argue what Braun was doing in baseball was the work of a player that would almost certainly have a wonderful career.
Then it all came crashing down.
Braun’s use of performance-enhancing drugs and his subsequent, embarrassing actions have been reported everywhere, and things don’t seem to be getting any better. Again, I felt betrayed. If Braun had made a stupid statement or basically anything else, I would be able to forgive him for it. But cheating is one of those unforgivable sins that can’t be justified or defended.
Maybe it’s our fault for trusting or looking up to celebrities. I am not one for blindly following or idolizing anyone, but I don’t think it’s too much to expect athletes to play the game fairly.
Braun’s use of PEDs is a major part of even a bigger problem that is currently facing Major League Baseball. It has made people doubt every player, and it has turned role models into disgraces.
I watch the Little Leaguers proclaim their favorite player and now think of how many of them will go through the same stage of disappointment I did. It’s sad to think about and definitely not the way sports are supposed to be viewed.
Grace and Braun can still have successful careers, but neither will ever be viewed the same way. Those types of mistakes aren’t forgotten or forgiven.
Let that be a lesson to all other baseball players.