- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

It's getting harder and harder to open a newspaper these days. Not just because of the horror of Sept. 11, but because of the depressing series of events which have followed it.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. Eight members of the University of Wyoming track and cross country teams are killed when their SUV crashes into a pickup truck that had apparently veered into their lane.

KLETTWITZ, Germany Racecar champion Alex Zanardi has both of his legs amputated after a ghastly collision in the American Memorial 500.

DELAWARE, Ohio An 18-year-old high school football player dies of head injuries suffered in a game.

And that's just the major stuff. I won't even get into the Ryder Cup being postponed for the first time since World War II or Peter Forsberg, one of the five best hockey players in the world, telling the Colorado Avalanche he's going to take a year off to rest his aching bones. Those seem almost insignificant by comparison though, in any other context, they'd be huge, huge stories.

Boy, does this country ever need a pick-me-up. Which is why it was heartening to see a dozen major league baseball teams take the field last night (with the rest scheduled to return to action today and the NFL to follow). Few things in life elevate the spirits quite like sports few things, that is, that you can obtain without a prescription. Sports are Prozac without the pills (which, come to think of it, gives new meaning to the term "pros").

Everybody has a different opinion about how important our games are. No sense in debating that here. But we're about to be reminded of how useful they can be, especially in sad times such as these. Sports, after all, are much more than just a diversion; they're a celebration of health, of vitality, of life. And surrounded as we are by so much death, well, you get the point I'm trying to make, don't you?

Beyond that, though, sports have an ability to amaze that's probably second only to the space program. We watch a takeoff from Cape Canaveral and a Mark McGwire moon shot with the same slack-jawed awe. And sometime in the coming weeks we'll have our breath taken away again not like it was a week ago, at the depths to which man can sink, but at the heights to which he can soar.

Will it be Barry Bonds breaking McGwire's home run record? Will it be Roger Clemens finishing 22-1? Will it be Ichiro leading the big leagues in batting in his first season in the U.S.?

Maybe it'll be the Ravens going undefeated. Or Tiger Woods shooting a 58. With sports, you never can tell. You can go along for months without much to excite you, and then suddenly somebody does something you've never seen before or never thought you'd see again. (And in the meantime, you can enjoy the daily thrills of circus catches and tackle-breaking runs and buzzer shots and spectacular saves.)

The Lords of Baseball missed a golden opportunity, I think. If I were them, I would have voted to have a split season, just like in '81. The games before Sept. 11 would have constituted one season, and the games after Sept. 11 would have constituted the second season. Think about it: For the next three weeks, every club in baseball even the Orioles would have been alive again, with a shot at the playoffs. If the Rangers (currently 38 games out of first in the AL West) had gotten hot and gone, say, 12-6, they could have sneaked in as a second-half wild card (if they didn't win the division, of course).

"There are people in the world, sinister people, who are trying to take things away from us," Bud Selig could have said, " our loved ones, our sense of security, our freedom of movement. We wanted to give something to Americans these last three weeks of the regular season. In towns where teams are hopelessly behind in the standings, especially, we wanted to give them baseball back, give them a second chance. All around the country the talk is of endings; why not a new beginning, right now?"

A cockamamie idea? Perhaps. But I still would have loved to see it happen.

Michael Jordan's comeback, should he decide to return, would be another such gift to America's sports fans particularly here in grief-stricken Washington. (And having Jaromir Jagr around to distract us will help ease the pain, too.) As we watched Michael fly through the air or do whatever it is he does at this age we could reminisce about simpler times, when religious fanatics didn't steer airplanes into tall buildings and the world wasn't such a scary place.

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