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Opinion

Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Trophies made of fool’s gold

Astros Sign Stealing Baseball
In this Nov. 1, 2017 photo, Houston Astros manager A. J. Hinch holds the championship trophy after Game 7 of baseball’s World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, in Los Angeles. Hinch and Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for the entire season and then fired by the team’s owner Jim Crane. Columnist Joe Puglia writes, “It’s not about winning, it’s about playing the game right.”
(Matt Slocum | AP)

If ever there was magic in the world, it happened within sight of the three bases and home plate. As I recall it from my youth, treasures of the world that adorned the walls of palaces and museums were nothing compared to the beauty and splendor of the dark green diamond at Yankee Stadium.

It wasn’t just a yard with grass, dirt, chalk lines, bases and a small hill in its center. Yankee Stadium was a field of dreams of grandeur for the men who ran to the outfield, took their respective bases and prepared for battle against those who would dare enter their hallowed dominion. Baseball is a dream for the kids in the stands who wanted to wear the uniform, kiss their mothers goodbye and swing their bats as swords, hoping to knock the ball into the nickel seats at center field.

But for the adults who had already found their lot in life, Yankee Stadium recreated the dreams of past innocence, lost wonder and the promise that there was something inherently good still left in the world, come true.

Baseball, this field of dreams that many hold sacrosanct has crumbled. Recently, we learned how during the 2017 World Series with the Dodgers, the Houston Astros used a center field camera and a TV monitor placed near the dugout steps to steal their opponents’ signs. Signs are a team’s communication system. The pitcher and catcher use them to call pitches. One finger is a fastball, two is a curveball, and so on. Calling signs with fingers when there are hundreds of cameras trained on you seems archaic. Yet it is traditional, and the collision of technology and tradition needs a bridge if we want to preserve aspects of the past that are the signature of the game’s heartbeat.

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La Cañada is still a baseball-loving town and the din prevalent throughout is that we got robbed. To make matters worse, it’s been alleged the Red Sox, who also beat the Dodgers in 2018, cheated too.

There are many tragedies associated with cheating in baseball. For instance, how does this affect children who often view athletes as superheroes? When adults cheat to win, it is the kids who lose. The field of dreams associated with baseball loses meaning when champions cut corners. Children doubt the legitimacy of the sport itself.

What is left for children to believe in when baseball, often associated with American values, is tarnished? The shiny trophies that we play for come into question because the Astros and maybe the Red Sox forged these trophies with fool’s gold. That selfish act makes everyone question the validity of the future and the truth of the past.

Sitting in the corner at Starbucks, I’ve heard every rationalization and remedy. However, the most disheartening comment was, “What’s the big deal when everyone is doing it?”

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The cost can be steep when team obsession obscures the importance of the means of realizing that dream. When it is bought and stolen, hacked and spied upon, the trophy loses its shine, reminding us that at this level, there is only a blurry sliver of daylight between fair competition and unfair advantage. Those who choose to play straight and respect the effort to maintain fair play, regardless of others or the organization, are what give the game its moral clarity.

Perhaps the values behind the love of the game are naive, and it’s idealistic to dream of a World Series won through pure team and individual effort. A rocket arm, a quick bat, a big heart, a blessing from divine sources or humility are diminished in such a world. What you came with is not enough.

It still has to matter how you get there. It’s not about winning, it’s about playing the game right.

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