Matt Heitner

Spring training starts this week in Arizona and Florida to mark the beginning of the Major League Baseball season. That’s right – baseball is back – meaning spring can’t be far away.

For baseball purists, there is nothing better than this time of year. Go take in nine innings, have a brawl, drink a beer. The way you watch a game hasn’t changed for as long as it has been played, and you get the feeling that you’re part of a tradition when you’re at the ballpark.

Baseball is a game of history, a sanctuary from the past. The game is thick with nostalgia, passed down from generation to generation. Dads tell stories about the game’s true heroes – the players they used to imitate on the field. Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle at the plate. Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson on the mound. That’s what baseball’s all about.

But lately there has been something wrong with the players of our national pastime. Instead of playing because they love the game, they play because they get paid. Culminating with Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year $252 million contract, baseball has tumbled to a downward spiral.

In the last week alone, Los Angeles Dodgers’ right fielder Gary Sheffield and San Francisco’s outfielder Barry Bonds have both refused to report to camp because they want more money. Ten million dollars a year isn’t enough they say, not when A-Rod gets $25 mil. Can you imagine the Mick saying he wouldn’t play baseball because he wasn’t getting paid enough?

It was this type of greed that led to the strike of 1994, and could lead to another strike sooner than you think. Baseball didn’t play a World Series in ’94, the only time in over one hundred years that the Fall Classic hasn’t been played. It took fans around the country a long time to forgive baseball for its sins, only warming to the game in the last few seasons. A second work stoppage in seven years would be disastrous, especially with a fan base that still resents the first strike.

Is this what baseball has come to?

The problems in the game today are many, but one towers over all the rest: It seems as though baseball isn’t as fun as it once was. The players now treat it like a business, not a privilege. It’s time to remind major leaguers why they started playing baseball in the first place. It wasn’t for money – I guarantee you that.

Now, as another season approaches, the players must choose the fate of the game. Will they play for the cash or for the fans? Can baseball capture our hearts once again, or will it fade further into the background of sports into the landscape of America?

With those questions in mind, I offer a general plea to those lucky enough to play baseball for a living: Forget the money. Play with the joy of an 11-year-old. And give this generation heroes we can tell our children about.

– Matt Heitner is assistant Sports editor and he will be at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium this weekend.