When I was not much older than my boy is now, I listened as my brothers called the play-by-play on their imaginary games in the yard. My oldest brother could throw a ball high into the air and change instantly from Willie McCovey, who had hit the ball, into Roberto Clemente, who dashed to the right-field wall for the one-handed grab.
Small wonder, then, that I became a lifelong fan. Well, that was the plan, anyway.
The recent death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, probably at least partially from the abuse of ephedrine as a weight-loss aid, sealed it for me. Add to that 1) the mounting evidence of steroid use to turn slender players into muscle racks, and 2) the nagging fact that the games most exciting player and best hitter since Ted Williams allegedly bet on games he was managing (doesnt matter whether the gets into the Hall or not), and Im uncomfortable with the idea of major league players being my sons idols.
Even Sammy Sosa, a guy who seems like a perfect role model for kids, bristled when Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly suggested he settle the steroid issue with a little test. O.K., maybe it was just a case of Sammys dignity being offended. But to leave doubt about an issue like this? Im still uncomfortable.
Whats a father to do?
Two-year-old Joseph and I have begun to solve the problem by sitting in my home office, looking at pictures golf holes in big books, and learning new words.
ME: Say flagstick.
ME: No, son; say flagstick, or the USGA will be mad.
ME: Very good.
This got me thinking, and the Clean Cut Playoff between Charles Howell III and Mike Weir confirmed it. Golf could do a lot of good for itself by hard-selling what the PGA Tour has been quietly preaching for years: Golf is squeakiest clean sport there is. Heck, Weir and Howell are posters boys for square, back when that word could be most often found between three and meals and otherwise meant decent.
Its no secret that although there are a few sour personalities out there, most professional golfers are thoroughlywell, square folks. Something about the discipline and determination required to reach that level develops levelheaded people. The kind of people you want your kids to look up to. (In my case, that will be especially true when Joseph inevitably realizes the truth about Dads swing.)
Success in golf discourages drug abuse, as we all know. It is a sad fact that young baseball players feel, rightly or wrongly, that they have to take supplements to be strong enough to stay in the league ' not to excel, just to stay. But its a fact nonetheless. And baseball seems unwilling or unable to do anything about it.
So it was that I was sitting with my son early Sunday evening, watching to see if he would react when Howell launched a long and excruciatingly difficult bunker shot toward the flag on the second playoff hole. The ball landed six feet from the cup.
FLASSTIG! said Joseph.