Proof of a successful getaway during hockey’s off-season: The dreamlike nature of the passing sports parade.
From A-Rod to Alfredsson, the sports headlines of the past month all sort of run together in a stream-of-consciousness manner to the summer vacationer. Especially for those who dare to take an occasional break from Twitter feeds, the news comes in bits and pieces, and sometimes as a jolt.
In recent weeks, I’ve encountered student summer campers who were deep in the woods, unplugged from their gadgets for days on end, only to emerge to news that captain Daniel Alfredsson had left the Ottawa Senators for a free-agent contract with the Detroit Red Wings. Naturally, their first thought was that they were being had in a big joke. “Yeah, right. Alfie is a Red Wing.”
For those who work in hockey, summer got a late start, just as the regular season, the playoffs, the entry draft and free agency launch were all delayed by the NHL lockout. For once, the free agent “frenzy” lived up to the hype, with several big moves, none bigger in this market than Alfredsson leaving for Detroit and Bobby Ryan shifting to Ottawa in a trade from Anaheim.
Only in recent weeks has hockey finally faded into the background, allowing baseball its place as the “summer pastime.” Too bad nobody is talking about the game.
While on vacation and paying half-attention, it is difficult to separate truth from fiction. Yet, even those who work in baseball find the Alex Rodriguez story surreal. Picture the scene: For repeated steroid crimes, A-Rod is slapped on Monday with a massive 211-game suspension (the rest of this season all of next season), and hours later he suits up for his first major league game of the season in the dog days of August, playing third base and batting cleanup for the New York Yankees. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
That’s right, the same Yankees team that was stalling A-Rod’s return to the lineup until the suspension was handed down couldn’t wait to insert him in the middle of the order because, well, because he’s available for duty while his appeal is heard, and that is expected to take months. So it is that the game’s anti-hero, allegedly the most reviled personality in professional sport, was out signing for a massive throng of autograph-seekers in Chicago before leading his Yankees to a resounding 8-1 loss to the White Sox. Perfect result.
But A-Rod hit a single! And gleefully slapped his hands together as he rounded first base. Professional sport has become reality TV.
By the way, fans of hockey and football who smugly claim that their sports aren’t plagued by steroid scandal, they might want to think again.
Football insiders assure us NFL teams wouldn’t be able to field full rosters if that league was serious about catching, exposing and penalizing steroid cheats. The NFL doesn’t even test for human growth hormone — a blanket invitation to make HGH the PED of choice in football, a game of power and strength.
The NHL — see no evil, hear no evil — barely tests for anything, does nothing on HGH and only tests “in-season.” Blind faith is in order. When was the last time you heard a hockey player complaining of having to pee in a bottle? It’s been six years since defenceman Sean Hill was suspended 20 games for steroid use and seven years since goaltender Jose Theodore blamed a positive test on Propecia, a product to control hair loss. The Theodore result, discovered in testing prior to the 2006 Turin Olympics, sparked a round a hair jokes, which ironically masked the fact Propecia can be used as a masking agent for steroids. While Theodore was not named to Canada’s team in Turin, he was on the long list of candidates.
Heading into the Sochi Olympics, potential Team Canada candidates will be reminded that at the Olympic Games, they test for real. Whatever players might be getting away with in the NHL, they stand to embarrass themselves and their country if they’re caught using a PED during Olympic competition.
JAYS LIKE DIVERSION
In Toronto, the Blue Jays could not be happier with the steroid news/diversion. For at least a few days, not as many fans are talking about the Jays’ monumental disappointment in a season that began with an infusion of talent, payroll and daring to dream big. If this is the end result of bidding to buy a winner, bring back the blue-collar Jays of John McDonald and the boys. At least those Jays died trying, and didn’t boot and toss the ball around the diamond like a bunch of hapless little leaguers.
In a summer so strange that even the Phoenix Coyotes found an owner, sports teams will take their blessings where they can. The best part of the sale for the newly named Arizona Coyotes? We’re already talking about how quickly the ownership partners can get out of the deal if the franchise can’t tread water in the desert (no small feat). Proving once again, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
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Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees reacts after a called strike in the 8th inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on August 5, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Yankees 8-1.
Photograph by: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images