Two of the greatest players to ever take the stage in their respective sports made their season debut this week. Flash bulbs popped by the thousands for both. However, the microscope that follows them like a deranged teenage stalker is there for very different reasons. Tiger Woods returned to the PGA tour Wednesday, hearing cheers and accolades after claiming the 2008 U.S. Open with a broken leg and suffering season ending surgery immediately after. Alex Rodriguez on the other hand made his first spring training start on the same day, facing leery eyes and disappointed fans following a voluntary admission to the use of performance enhancing substances.
The two issues seem intertwined in more ways than timing. Just as Tiger's career has lifted golf to unparalleled heights, the black cloud of steroids has battered baseball for the better part of a decade. It's seems as though every time Woods puts another mark in the record books another hero has an asterisk put by his name in the memories of those who love baseball.
For the boys of the summer diamond, there doesn't seem to be any relief from the plague. Player after player has dealt with their steroids nightmare in every fashion possible; from denial to justification, to ignorance and finally admission, it seems there is just no relief. The piper has to be paid and the cost is enormous.
From information brought forth by Rodriguez and other sources in the past weeks, his banned activities took place while playing for the Texas Rangers as the highest paid player in baseball. I can't even imagine the pressure he felt, the intense need to perform and justify all the millions. I am not saying what any of these players, from Bonds, to McGwire to Rodriguez did was right but pressure can do strange things to people and the salaries and expectation put on today's professional athletes are astronomical. What I don't understand is how any of them envisioned getting away with it.
You know I was told by a very wise man once that the only way to keep a secret between three people is to kill two of them. I have found this to be one of the pure truths in life.
To flip back to the positive side, Woods is back and according to ESPN.com, he missed only one fairway during the first nine holes of his Feb. 24 practice round.
He boosts his sport like no other player the world has seen. For many golfers I know, watching the tour without him is tantamount to watching an under-card bout on fight night. If you love the sport then you love to watch it be played. But the main event is what every sports fan looks for, and if you are watching golf, Tiger is the main event.
It is no revelation to say that baseball is not the only professional sport that steroids have seriously effected. The problem is everywhere. But with increased security measures and advanced testing techniques beating the system is getting tougher every season and maybe the nightmare that is currently destroying America's pastime could be coming to an end. Players need an even playing field and with the risk growing far faster than the reward, hopefully things will get better.
What bothers me the worst, is what is to be said about the next ten years of Alex Rodriguez's career? Can America forgive and forget? Should we?
I have been forgiven huge transgressions over the course of my life, but on the other hand I'm not a national hero. For me, I can forgive and I will, I just wish it would end. I love sports and I hate the fact that ESPN has become court TV due to continuous legal scandals. If someone in baseball didn't just cop to using dope, a pro football player just got arrested for for assault and once again Sal Paolantonio is reporting in front of a courthouse instead of a stadium.
So, this weekend, I am going to ignore the mention of A-Rod and enjoy Tiger's return. If his leg is truly better than ever, the competition is going to get spanked like a five year old child caught playing with matches.