The good name of Major League Baseball has been shot. It all started back with the MLB strike in 1994. The owners and players couldn’t see eye to eye, and a colossal black cloud formed over every stadium in the league. For the first time since 1904, there would be no postseason baseball. That’s when the first wave of former fans started rallying against professional baseball. I heard arguments about how MLB didn’t care about the fans, how the sport was heading south and how there wasn’t much, if anything, left to be proud of in the sport. But, like they say, time heals all wounds. A year later, fans gradually started coming back to the stadiums in support of their favorite ball clubs.
After a decade of relative tranquility, rumors and allegations surrounding the previous hush-mouthed topic of steroids began to slip through the cracks. MLB was accused of looking the other way, ignoring a problem that seemed to be getting out of control. The news was alarming to fans. Some felt betrayed, some shocked and even some indifferent, but they continued to fill the stadium seats.
I found myself in one of those seats last Thursday night. Dodger Stadium was the last baseball stadium in California I’d never been to. It was partly because I’d never been told the stadium was much to see. It was partly because I’d heard that if you were planning on going, you’d better expect to sit in line for parking for over an hour. And it was partly because I’ve never cared for the Dodgers all that much. Nonetheless, last week, my buddies and I watched the Dodgers face the Giants in front of a sold out stadium crowd, and I officially crossed Dodger Stadium off my checklist of stadiums I’d never seen.
Sometime in between the national anthem and the guess-the-attendance fixture, I started thinking about where professional baseball has been in my lifetime, and where it’s headed. The closest analogy I could come up with is that baseball resembles a washing machine. Think about it for a second: You throw your clothes in the washer, just like you throw your support to your favorite team. The washer starts doing its job, tosses the clothes every which way and you’re along for the ride as your team experiences its share of ups and downs over 162 games. There are the good times – like when your clothes come out smelling spring fresh – and the bad times – when the $10 bill you forgot you left in your pocket disintegrates, wreaking havoc on the rest of your clothes. But, no matter what, you’re always going to come back because you need clean clothes. In the same way, America needs baseball, so everyone keeps coming back.
For any fan of a team looking for a storyline, it’s there, and it’s always been there. For me, I was able to experience the brilliance that is baseball last Thursday. I was a part of the largest Thursday Dodger Stadium crowd in over 40 years. I had a front row seat to watch Barry Bonds try to creep up on one of the most hallowed records in sports history. I received the finest crafted bobblehead I’ve ever seen handed out for free at a sporting event, to the point that people were legitimately interested in buying them from anyone in the parking lot after the game.
More importantly, for the first time in my life, I saw a successful “wave” completed all the way around an entire stadium. And it actually started in my section – that’s something to be proud of. To anyone who has a favorite memory involving Major League Baseball in some way, you just know what I mean.
I never would have thought that I would be realizing all of this in the least likely of places, sitting in Dodger Stadium, with a Dodger dog in one hand, and a Nomar Garciaparra bobblehead in the other.