There exists a thin line between purity and putridity, and in stepping over it we merely reveal our humanity, a practice par for the course in a world that often confuses greatness and excess.The proliferation of performance enhancing drugs within a supposed clean ocean of sport has created a disgusting cesspool of shattered realities, sending the puppeteers of an idyllic landscape scurrying, lost in disillusion. So they type, streaming venom with acid pointed pens, crafting pieces tinged in contempt. The cries from the fans, the paying customers, only envelops common sensibility, for a million screaming voices can only whisper one thing.
Steroids must go.
All the while, a degree of analytical understanding is outside in the cold distance, suffocated. This has devolved into a pathetic witch-hunt, a cause which will offer nary a solution, only furthering a continued flowering of unmitigated, and thoroughly accepted, journalistic irresponsibility.
Nothing will change without a simple question:
This was the sentiment held by a friend of mine, when his mind had finally offered a reasonable conclusion, a response to a moral dilemma that had been haunting him for weeks.
His promise had long faded, vapor in the mist of time. He was a shortstop, the Captain of our team, the heart and soul. His modest frame was elevated by an unstoppable will to be the absolute best. His eyes would burst aflame in any game, fight and fury in a quest for pride and glory, the relative importance of any given contest beside his ultimate objective.
For in any game, there’s a winner and loser, the latter trapped in an unforgiving void; the former basked in righteous reward.
And my friend, well, he persisted in the pursuit of victory.
It hurt seeing him age. How quickly life speeds by during our teenage years. Bright eyes can often become bleary before even an eighteenth birthday, depending on fate and circumstance.
I saw my friend change into a warped cynic, his dreams failing him. The fastballs sped by his bat now, slamming into the catcher’s mitt as he flailed helplessly, hoping and praying to find the sweet spot that had long ago escaped his delicate grasp.
Baseball was a part of him, the core of his personality. His mood would swing on the whim of a slump, on the whimsy of a hot streak. The game was his compass. All he is, was, ever will be.
In the middle class, we’re souls in purgatory.
We’re neither rich nor poor, blessed or cursed. We are always on the verge of elevating upward on this ridiculous societal totem pole, while at the same instant eternally teetering on the edge of losing everything.
Having nothing, instead of a shred of something.
In this life, reality is wrong, dreams right. Refusing to be part of the same system that had entrapped our parents, who worked exceedingly difficult hours to simply maintain a thin apparatus of fortune, we sought to transcend our inherited world.
Baseball was the gateway. He wanted it more than I did, the wealth and fame. I would think far too much, overestimating my frailty, underestimating my talent.
I possessed other passions. He lived in a realm of heightened expectations.
His father drove him to succeed, anything to win. Catchers would be bowled over, slides would be executed with spikes high, the opposition intimidated through verbose insults, and there would be my friend’s dad, nodding in quiet, peaceful appreciation, enjoying his son’s expanding expertise.
His dad had done everything they told him to, a student athlete right off an All American Assembly Line, who slid through the societal cracks into a meandering job which offered little in the way of promotion, only a surplus of maddening monotony.
His son would be different. He’d be an individual, he’d have a dream and conquer it, own it.
Or else he would be him. Trapped.
By the end of it, thanks to an unrelenting father who squeezed out his love for the game, I’m not even sure if my friend even enjoyed playing baseball anymore.
He was a man now, tired eyes belying his age in numbers. We were at the batting cage, if nothing else for pride. We had seen it all together, relationships begin and end, seasons arrive and pass into memory, we had felt our dreams brush past us, a stranger in the street.
We’d heard about some College washout, pushing steroids. When he decided to try them out, when he asked why not instead of why, I never offered a serious rebuttal. I simply regurgitated paraphrased quotes from already ignored Anti-Drug Ads, halfhearted.
He wanted to experience their effect, see if they could prolong his foray into fantasyland for just a few more months, long enough to catch on with his college team, and I could only buckle, avert my attention.
How could I tell him?
That everything he had lived for had only given him a reason to die for?
I stayed late that night at the Cages, solitary, blisters of due diligence forming around my palms.
It bought me back, to a different time, seems eons ago, where everything was so vivid, crystal clear, when my life and my dreams coincided, perfect harmony.
My friend and I, we would close the batting cage down, ripping line drives, living it up. It would just be the two of us, closing time nearing, past midnight, the dimming lights flickering.
Each and every baseball would echo upon the bat’s impact, a resonating ping filling the surrounding emptiness.
I saw him again, recently, our friendship defunct, the differences causing the rift inevitable, built in us since birth.
Nothing lasts forever.
He had quit baseball, given up the ghost. I’d heard around the neighborhood, whispers, of him being a practical zero, a pothead who glories in underachievement.
Before we even shook hands, during this rather serendipitous meeting, he spoke:
“So much for those roids, eh Matty?”
I smiled, no other emotion suitable for public display.
What should I feel?
Sympathy? Anger? Outright apathy?
“You sold your soul, doing that shit. For what?”
Now it was his turn to smile, perhaps surprised by such a melodramatic, yet heartfelt, response.
I felt he sold us both out. Sullied all we had lived for, all that was right. He didn’t just cheat his own being. He mocked everything I stood for.
“For nothing man…” he suddenly retorted, without a hint of irony.
It was already understood.
I came close to wondering aloud, what ever became of those echoes in the dark.