According to Me: The simple solace of baseball

For as long as I can remember, I’ve gravitated toward sports. At their core, there is simplicity and purity to them.

My first love was baseball. I remember well the Atlanta Braves of the late 80s and early 90s. I remember the worst-to-first season of 1991 and Sid’s slide into home against the Pirates.

I remember being enthralled as Jack Morris and John Smoltz effortlessly moved through the greatest game that has ever been pitched in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Both guys threw shutouts through nine innings. Morris came back out for the 10th. Smoltz did not. Nine-year-old me still hasn’t forgiven Bobby Cox for that.

I remember the only kind of strike baseball people hate; the one took away the 1994 World Series.

Randy Johnson’s fastball. Cal Ripken’s record. Ken Griffey Jr.’s swing. Tony Gwynn’s smile. The iconic images that speak of baseball’s purest attributes.

I love everything about baseball. And I’ve often thought that, if God cared about sports, He would care first about baseball.

It is because of the innate goodness and purity manifest all the way from its Doubleday origins that baseball is most unkind to the impure participant.

Baseball fans, by and large, loathe Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and anyone else associated with performance enhancing drugs. Why? Because their offense is viewed as a violation of baseball’s greatest attribute, it’s purity.

In no other sport do fans respond with such vitriol toward perceived cheaters as they do in baseball. Fans don’t care that the Seattle Seahawks account for a significant portion of the Adderall market. They don’t care about the New England Patriots’ deflated footballs or their home movies of other team’s practices.

But they care about baseball. They care about the alleged acne on Bonds’ back, the sudden resurgence of Roger Clemens and the foreign substance on Michael Pineda’s forearm. For all of the corruption of the business of baseball, the game itself is meant to be pure, the last bastion of goodness in a sports world so devoid of such archaic undertones.

Perhaps that’s why the story of Jackie Robinson West is so disappointing. And, for me, so painfully disinteresting. In a week where the sports world bid farewell to iconic basketball coaches Dean Smith and Jerry Tarkanian, the headlines were largely monopolized by the story of the Chicago-based Little League team that won the United States crown last season. The story that was thought to have reached a fitting conclusion added another chapter when it was revealed that ineligible players took the field.

Why those players were there and how the mistake happened is not as important as the fact that it happened. And the reaction to the story has been visceral. Why? Because baseball is supposed to be pure at its most basic level. And Little League, baseball’s most basic level, should be the purest of them all.

But, whether it is Jackie Robinson West or Danny Almonte, there have been far too many reminders in recent years that even baseball can find no sanctuary from societal decadence.

Still, I will take solace this spring. I will sit in the dugout at Demopolis High School and lean on the fence at Cal Ripken League contests. I will watch as the boys of our community step onto that field and learn the revelatory lessons that only the game of baseball provides. And I will be reminded that there is still purity to be found in the world of sports and the world in general.

I love everything about baseball. And I’ve often thought that, if God cared about sports, He would care first about baseball.

Jeremy D. Smith is managing partner of The West Alabama Watchman. He has covered news and sports in Demopolis since 2008. His column, According to Me, appears weekly on