Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Thoughts on the Ryan Braun suspension

As Matt posted yesterday, Brewers slugger and 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun was suspended yesterday for the rest of the 2013 season.

I suppose the most obvious take here is that this story is one more reminder that we shouldn't take sports too seriously. The passion that many of us have for the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks (LOL, j/k!) and Golden Eagles can be fun, but at the end of the day, it's just a diversion.

Still--that's what makes Ryan Braun so disappointing to me. Watching the Brewers is supposed to be a diversion from all the lying, cheating and general corruption in our world. The economy is terrible. The headlines in the news are terrible. Our president is terrible.

But hey--at least I can take my son to the ballpark and forget about it all for a few hours a handful of times every summer. As James Earl Jones said in Field of Dreams:
They'll arrive...as innocent as children, longing for the past....It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces.

I have written about how the Brewers provided a glimmer of temporal light two summers ago when we lost our baby to a painful and long miscarriage.
But it was more than that. And it was more than a much-needed escape. You see, the Brewers became the first real shared hobby that my four-year-old and I could bond over. He sat through six games, absolutely absorbed to the last pitch. He'll point out Ryan Braun or Rickie Weeks in the on-deck circle from row 15 of Terrace Reserved. And each day, the first words out of his mouth are "Daddy, did the Brewers win? Can we watch the headlights? (ha!)"  I'm still sad about the two children I've lost, but baseball has given me an awesome tool for cementing my father-son relationship with the little man that we do have. For that I will always be grateful.
What makes me most angry about Ryan Braun is the feeling that he stole the legitimacy of those memories. Probably the most fun I've ever had with my son was attending the Brewers playoff rally at the Summerfest grounds following the regular season. Peter and I went early to get a good view in front of the stage. We had a blast, and for Peter the pinnacle was seeing Ryan Braun speak at the end of the event.

My son Peter at the Brewers 2011 Playoff Rally
I'd been hoping to avoid the "Ryan Braun is a cheater" conversation with my son for the last 19 months, but last night there was no further avoiding it. I know it is unrealistic to think that ball players will be good role models. But I'm still mad that something I hoped would be pure and wholesome to share with my son is as sordid as the rest of our cultural cesspool.

I'm not just angry toward Ryan Braun for the memories that have been tarnished. I'm angry about the future too. How do I react when Braun is back in the starting lineup next spring? I won't cheer when he takes the field, but do I boo? When he's up with men on base in the bottom of the 9th, do I root for him to come through with the game-winning hit? Am I contributing to the problem by even buying tickets to see the team he plays for?

I don't know the answer to these questions.

Ultimately, I'll probably be back at Miller Park next year. Maybe because I'm a hypocrite. Maybe because I naively believe the end of the Field of Dreams quote I referenced above:
The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.
Baseball has never been perfect. You've got the Black Sox scandal of 1919, the exclusion of black players into the 1940s and Pete Rose's gambling problem among its black eyes. But baseball--like America--represents an ideal. In spite of its imperfections, we strive for and celebrate what's best about it.

And that, I suppose, is why Ryan Braun can't completely sully my memories of 2011. In the end, those memories weren't about him. They were about me and my son.

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