There is plenty to like about Major League Baseball this summer.

Adrian Gonzalez’ ability to live up to the hype and Derek Jeter’s quest to become the first man in a Yankee uniform to record his 3,000th career hit.

Teams from Cleveland and Pittsburgh coming out of nowhere to contend and Jose Bautista coming out of nowhere to hit home runs at an amazing (and some would say questionable) pace.

Justin Verlander, Josh Beckett, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and a handful of other pitchers showing us, once again, pitching rules.

Then there’s the Roger Clemens perjury trial.

Every time it feels like MLB has turned a corner and put the Steroid Era in its rearview mirror, it is brought back to reality with a slap in the face. The Clemens trial is an ugly, awful reminder that owners and players alike allowed juiced up cheaters to turn the record book into a joke. The single season and career home run records are both held by an accused juicer (Barry Bonds). The man who won more Cy Young awards than anyone else (Clemens) is on trial this week, accused of lying about his own performance enhancing drug use.

It really is a joke how much goodwill was created by players who have either admitted using PEDs or reportedly failed tests. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped bring the game back in 1998 with their race to Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. It was all a farce. A drug-fueled farce.

I wish we could all run and hide from it. But it happened. It will never go away. And we will constantly be reminded of one of the darkest periods in baseball history. Just a few months after Bonds’ own perjury trial ended, another of baseball’s biggest stars is defending himself in a court of law.

The good news is, Major League Baseball has taken steps to clean up the game and, hopefully, what we are seeing at big league stadiums this season is a little more authentic. We will, however, never know for sure. Questions will likely always follow players like Bautista, who has hit 82 home runs in the last two seasons after hitting just 59 in his first six. When a player like David Ortiz (who reportedly failed a drug test in 2004) brings his career back to life like he has this season, he is going to have to live with the fact that some fans will think he is cheating.

That’s what the Steroid Era has given us: A lot of broken records and a loss of faith.

It hasn’t, however, killed the game.

Want proof? Turn off your TV and enjoy a game you can pretty much guarantee is pure. Take a drive to Old Orchard Beach and check out The Ballpark, which was recently renovated and is now home to the Old Orchard Beach Raging Tide of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Or check out their league-mates, the Sanford Mainers, at Goodall Park.

Take a trip to Harold Alfond Fenway Park in Belgrade to watch Cal Ripken League games or drive to Farmington to watch Cal Ripken softball state tournaments this weekend.

If you are in Augusta, make a trip down the Piggery Road and take your pick. You can watch Little League baseball players in District tournament games, check out the CAYSA softball leagues, or Augusta Babe Ruth games. The choice is yours.

That’s the really good news. Kids are still playing baseball. The game is no longer America’s pastime, it hasn’t been for a long time. At the big league level, the NFL and NBA have stolen the spotlight. At the youth level, lacrosse has taken players away from the game. Specialization has as well. But kids are still playing. Most of them are using aluminum bats, which drives me crazy, but they are playing.

Some kids are even still playing in their backyards. Whether it is Wiffle ball, pickle or a game of catch with Dad, kids still pick up their gloves and bats and play the great old game.

Steroids have done a lot of damage to baseball, but the game, despite a few black and blues, is alive and well.

Scott Martin — 621-5618

[email protected]


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