Jack Ward knocked the baseball around the yard, which his dad, Dan, found surprising because Jack was 5 at the time and his only real taste of baseball was at the T-ball level. But here was Jack, smacking the baseballs his dad tossed his way like he’d seen live pitching for awhile.
“Nice hitting,” Dan said.
“Yeah,” Jack said, “and I’m not even on drugs.”
He’s 5 years old.
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From the mouths of babes, right?
Dan was so stunned it took a while before he told his father, Frank.
Frank was so stunned that he still can’t understand what his grandson said, and the incident happened a year ago.
“I was floored,” said Frank Ward, who lives in Parrish. “Holy jeez, what does that mean? He’s a smart little kid, but so what? He’s 5. How fast do these kids learn these things?”
We know where they learn them, from TV and newspapers that carry the stories of baseball players and athletes in other sports who test positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
See, this is the fallout from baseball’s Steroid Era. Not only is the record book a farce, but kids see the big contracts earned by the players and wonder, hmmm?
There is a risk in using steroids, sure, but there is also a reward. And not every player who has used has been or ever will be caught.
“You wonder about the older kids, the teenagers,” Frank said. “How much do they absorb? It’s tough enough being a teenager without this temptation.”
Frank, like a lot of baseball fans, blames the baseball owners and the players’ union for what he called their “wishy-washy” reaction to steroids.
“Like two guys looking at a pop-up and letting it fall between them,” Ward said.
Dan and Jack live in St. Petersburg. They are Rays fans. They live close enough to Tropicana Field that Frank and Dan can ride bicycles to the games.
They enjoyed the 2008 Rays, father and son. They went to a game in each round of the postseason last October and look forward to going to more games this summer.
But Jack’s comment about playing the game clean cast a shadow over the Rays incredible season. They wonder if hew’s made the connection between steroids and success.
“I thought my grandson was leading a nice little, sheltered live,” Frank said. “Then he came up with that and blew me away.”
Frank and Dan know at some point little Jack would learn about steroids and that not every baseball star is a hero and that there are shortcuts to fame and fortune that are frowned upon by a great many people, except those who own baseball teams.
Dan was just hoping to be the one to tell Jack. He has no idea where Jack learned it first.
Maybe from a teammate, another 5-year-old.That’s not too comforting a thought.
“How bad is it?” Frank asked. “How bad does it influence kids?”
Frank, like a lot of us, never played pro ball, never even played high school ball. But he enjoyed playing baseball as a kid and enjoys watching it as an adult.
Franks loves the days when Dan, an airline pilot, is out of town and he gets to take Jack to his baseball games.
Maybe someday they’ll ride their bicycles to the Trop.
“Major League Baseball, yeah, it’s big,” Frank said. “But it’s not the whole game.”
He’s right. Some of the best games are played in backyards between fathers and sons.
And when the father says, “Nice hit,” the son says, “Hey, I’m Carlos Pena.”