Toss a small stone in any direction of southern Chester County and you are liable to hit someone who is not able to remember what he or she had for dinner the night before but can recall, in the most accurate detail, the final inning of the most crucial baseball game they had ever played in 25 – even 50 -- years ago. For those who made the decision to begin playing the game when they were younger, and in particular those who chose to pursue it to the highest level their talents could take them, baseball is more than a sport or an affiliation, but a life lesson, a hundred moments burned into memory, and sensory overload recollection bank that can call up the way the grass smelled, the burnish of a well-worn glove, and the the free float of our best childhood innocence. The bank is thick, nearly impenetrable.
Within the last month, those who love the game have seen two very contrasting pictures flash on their television screens and documented in their newspapers. In one, Major League Baseball handed down 50-game suspensions to 12 players for their violations of the league's Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, first established in 2005, and a whopping 211-game suspension for Alex Rodriguez, who continues to appeal his suspension. Rodriguez has become the poster child for ugly taint made on the game by the use of performance-enhancing drugs by players, and his continuing charade of an appeal lends no credibility to his reputation. Indeed, the PED culture in Major League Baseball has become so prevalent that it leaves us to wonder if the home run we have just seen is real or enhanced. Ultimately, it has undermined the game and in the process, threatened to puncture the purity of our memory bank.
In the other, we saw a group of 16-year-old boys from Kennett Square and Unionville who made up the Kennett Kings senior division Little League team and returned home as national champions. Throughout their run, this newspaper and others chronicled their rise to the world championship game against Chitre, Panama, which they lost 2-1, despite a late rally. Just over our county border, we saw the Newark National Little League team reach the Little League World Series at Williamsport, as well as the team from Lionville, Pa. Their faces in photographs, we saw, were a documentary of emotions, their efforts on the field were orchestrated in concert from teammate to teammate, and the respect they showed their opponents was exemplary. For the many among us whose most precious childhood moments were spent on a baseball field, watching these boys play confirmed for us that our memory bank for the game we love has been reinforced. Baseball, former baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti once wrote, is a game destined to break one's heart. Every once in a while, however a group of boys come along and save it.