There was a story on NPR last night about a man trying to reconcile his young son’s love of baseball and the steroid era. The subject, Jim Gullo, has an eight year-old son who is becoming a hardcore baseball freak, but who, at the same time, is acutely aware of Barry Bonds’ issues, the Mitchell Report, and the rest of the ongoing steroid saga. This, according to the piece, presents a problem:
Gullo, 52, introduced his son to an old baseball board game that he used to play as a kid. He also was Joe’s Little League coach. When Joe turned 7, Gullo got him a PlayStation 2 baseball video game that his son fell in love with. But that same year, the Mitchell Report on doping in baseball was released. Gullo suddenly had to confront a dark reality of cheating and lying, and drugs. Many of the top players in Joe’s video game were implicated in the report, as was the player whose name was on Joe’s new baseball glove. Joe’s prized baseball card collection became possible evidence of wrongdoing. He started separating cards that had suspicious home run numbers — a big surge in home runs, followed by a drop-off. He’d crunch the numbers and then ask his dad if the player did steroids.
“What do you answer to that?” Gullo asks. “I have no idea, and I don’t know how to counsel my kid” . . .
. . . “Frankly, I am reluctant as a parent to really push baseball as a passion right now,” he says, “because I don’t know what’s going to come out next, or how this is all going to shake out, or who else is going to be named.”
Gullo is now working on a book about his connection with Joe and baseball. As part of the project, Gullo is considering a summer trip with his son. To find, as he says, a new kind of baseball hero.
This all seems rather weak and contrived to me. If you listen to the actual audio of the story, it’s plainly obvious that his son is not suffering any lost love for baseball whatsoever. Indeed, he sounds like a more amped-up version of me when I was eight combined with the healthily skeptical adult fan you can find anywhere these days. At the same time, the father doesn’t exactly come off as the “won’t somebody think of the children?!” type either. Certainly not the kind of guy who is outsourcing the role model business to pro athletes. He loves baseball. His son loves baseball. They’re both able to talk about it intelligently and with perspective. What’s the problem?
After listening to the story, I can’t help but think that this “dilemma” and the search for “a new kind of baseball hero” is being played up a bit in the service of the memoir Gullo is writing. My guess is that that in the book, the “new kind of baseball hero” is going to end up being Gullo himself for introducing the game to his son and taking him on what sounds like will be a great trip. Which is how it should be.