Compulsion to Create
Gregory S. Shaffer
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This article ran in the Sacramento Bee ( on March 31, 1997 and in the Vacaville Reporter ( on May 18, 1997. (The article appeared in each publication in a slightly different format.)

"Don't Care If I Ever Get Back"

My wife doesn't know it yet, but in a few weeks I'm going to give an old lover another chance.

I promised my wife I would never see her again and now, just three years later, I've changed my mind. I'll take some happy-go-lucky friends to my first encounter with this old flame, that way if things go bad I'll have someone to talk to.

But I'm telling you right now she had better welcome me with open arms, and find a way to thank me. Because deep inside I'm still not sure she deserves my love.

I'm ready to, want to, forgive her. It's an affair that I don't want to live without. I love the way she looks on a sunny spring day, the way she dazzles me under her lights on an autumn night, the way she smells, the many traditions that wrap her and me in the timeless warmth of familiarity.

Baseball, she broke my heart.

Childish multimillion dollar players or money hungry power junkie owners. I don't care who is to blame. I'm trying to move beyond blame to forgiveness, and blame will only set me back.

After the strike at the end of 1994 season jilted the World Series and cheated us out of the beginning of the 1995 season, I vowed baseball and I were through. She slapped me, all of us, in the face. Did worse, turned her back on us all and walked away. Behind that phony mediagenic smile she told us that we didn't matter. I told her I would never see her again. But I was weak.

It's not easy to close your heart to one who makes the worst of times seem bearable. To quote a character form the movie "Field of Dreams:" The one thing that's endured... is baseball. So, I stole moments with my scornful lover by visiting her less polished sister -- the minor league.

I must confess. I've traveled many times over the past three years to the minor league (single "A") ballpark just 35 miles from my home down an old secondary highway. There is no better way to spend five dollars than to see unspoiled young players take to the field and embrace the game with the intensity she so richly deserves.

On many summer nights members of the home team, youthful thin pitchers resting their potential multi-million dollar arms, sit in the stands with us tallying up balls and strikes, fast balls and curve balls. These Big League hopefuls answer our questions, they shake our hands, they thank us for coming out to see them play. Should some youngster ask for an autograph, they flash a gracious and embarrassed smile and say thanks for asking. Without the fans they wouldn't be "playing ball" while others work. I hope they don't loose their innocence when they get to "the show."

And that is precisely the attitude that I want when I return to the major leagues. That's the attitude we all deserve from those who make the obscene sums of nine, ten, eleven or more million dollars a year -- more than $65,000 a game!

Not long ago at spring training in Tucson, Arizona I stood back and watched in disappointment as players walked to their air-conditioned team bus after a game, maybe one out of four stopped to sign a few autographs. The rest just kept on walking, many without acknowledging the cheering fans. I know that some ballplayers give enormous amounts of their time and their lives to the fans at the park, their communities and charities. Maybe they should be the ones on the All-Star team.

If I were the commissioner of baseball, my rules would be simple. Players would be required to sign autographs thirty minutes every day they suit up in any ballpark. Don't sign, don't play. Every player would have to meet with the youth of their home community at least six times each year during the off season. Don't meet, don't play. In a perfect world every player would want to do these things.

I'm ready to take another chance, to reconcile with my old flame -- the American Pastime. I'm sure my wife will understand. I'll buy us box seats on the first base line. We'll eat our favorite foods. I'll make my wife a gourmet lunch to bring to the park. I'll eat hot dogs.


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