by Clark Groome

Tradition has it – and baseball is known for its traditions – that the All-Star Game is the halfway mark in the season, although this year the midpoint of the Phillies’ season was actually June 29.

The first part of this campaign has been filled with some great baseball. The Phillies alone – if you can overlook the fact that they haven’t been able to hit a lick and that many of their regular position players, two of their starting pitchers and three of their closers have been or are on the disabled list – have played some remarkable games.

Take, for instance, the June run that starter Cliff Lee had. He won all his games in June, giving up only 1 run in 5 starts with an ERA of 0.21. Amazing.

The hometown heroes have the best record in baseball going into the All-Star break. Fill-in position players Wilson Valdez, Michael Martinez, John Mayberry Jr., starter Vance Worley and relievers Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo have more than earned their keep while some of the regulars are off recuperating from injuries ranging from a jammed thumb to a bulging disc.

What’s apparent this season – in Philly and beyond – is that the game is being dominated by pitching, something that hasn’t been the case in close to two decades.

Baseball fans outside of Philadelphia have much to celebrate, chief among them is Derek Jeter joining the elite 3,000-hit club on Saturday with a home run off Tampa Bay Rays starter David Price in the third inning. It was his second hit of the game. He’d singled in the first. Not only did he pass the 3,000 hit mark by going five-for-five, he knocked in the Yankees’ winning run.

Unlike Barry Bonds’ eclipsing Hank Aaron’s 755 career home runs August 7, 2007, nothing about Jeter’s accomplishment is controversial. For more than 15 seasons the talented shortstop has been a leader on and off the field. His name has been conspicuously absent in the gossip columns and tabloids. Jeter personifies class.

How appropriate it was, then, that 23-year-old Christian Lopez returned the home run ball to Jeter without asking for anything in return. Lopez’ act was a nice antidote to the me-first reputation that so many fans and young citizens have justly earned.

While it has been a great season so far, not all has been positive.

Take the soap opera – a.k.a The Los Angeles Dodgers.

Its current owners, Jamie and Frank McCourt, bought the team in 2004 and have used its income and prestige to live exorbitantly. When they decided to divorce, the Dodgers – the team that brought Jackie Robinson to baseball and baseball to the West Coast – were caught in the middle.

It is hoped that this great baseball organization, now in bankruptcy, can be restored to its rightful place by some new owner who will return it to its thrilling days of yesteryear, the days of Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Don Sutton, Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and countless others. Imagine how hard this must be for the great Vin Scully, the Dodgers’ voice since they were in Brooklyn more than a half-century ago. From all reports, Scully remains as classy as ever. The rest of the organization, on and off the field, needs to follow his lead.

For all the good and the bad on the field and in the front office, the one story that won’t leave me is the tragedy that took place at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, last week.

Rangers left-fielder Josh Hamilton tossed a ball to a father and son in the upper deck. The father, 37-year-old firefighter Shannon Stone, grabbed the ball for his son, Cooper, 6. In trying to make the catch, he pitched headfirst out of the stands, landing on concrete 20 feet below. While he was able to speak right after the fall and asked that someone take care of his son, his injuries were so severe that he died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Cooper was in the front seat.

Baseball has made almost all the right statements. The one statement they haven’t made is that they will look into heightening the fences that are in place to prevent what happened in Texas from happening anywhere.

It took the death of a 13-year-old hockey fan in Columbus, Ohio, in 2002 to lead the league to require that safety netting be installed behind the goals in all NHL arenas.

The same kind of increased protection needs to be installed in baseball parks. Yes, it would be expensive. Yes, what happened in Texas is an extremely rare event. That said, think about young Cooper Stone. He and his father were inseparable. They loved baseball. They had stopped on the way to the park to buy a glove so Cooper might catch a foul ball.

Cooper has lost his dad and, I would imagine, his affection for baseball. For his sake, and so there are no future Coopers, baseball should pay more than lip service and take action to keep its beautiful new parks not only fan friendly but safe as well.


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