- Associated Press - Sunday, August 28, 2011

The season began horribly, with the savage beating of a man at Dodger Stadium simply because he was wearing the other team’s jersey. Midway through, there was unspeakable tragedy in Texas when a man sitting with his young son died while trying to catch a ball tossed his way.

The game’s biggest slugger went on trial and was convicted of charges related to his use of steroids. One of the greatest pitchers ever also had his day in court, though prosecutors may have struck out in their efforts to show Roger Clemens lied about steroids himself.

Two of the sport’s premier franchises are in serious trouble, threatened by the greed of their owners. Things are so bad in Los Angeles that fans are staging protests against the ownership, and the lure of $1 Dodger Dogs isn’t enough to fill even the cheap seats in the team’s iconic stadium.

On Saturday night, though, it was standing-room only as 44,091 packed into Milwaukee’s stadium to watch the small-market Brewers beat the Cubs once again. In recent weeks, two players gained admittance to exclusive clubs reserved for the game’s best, and fans are starting to believe that not everybody who plays the game is juiced.

Yes, baseball can sometimes look like a punch-drunk fighter, staggering from one crisis to another. But the sport is nothing if not remarkably resilient.

With a month to go in a regular season that has had more than its share of sour notes, you might even say that baseball is thriving.

Commissioner Bud Selig did the other day and sounded almost believable, though he’s said a lot of things over the years that have nothing to do with reality. In this case, though, maybe it’s time to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“I really think the last three years, given everything that’s gone on, baseball has really, really proven its popularity,” Selig said.

Judging from attendance alone, Selig may be right. Parents are still taking their kids to the ballpark in respectable numbers and even fan apathy in Los Angeles hasn’t stopped attendance from rising slightly overall in the major leagues this season.

They come despite being weary from years of steroid scandals. They come even when the price of taking a family of four to a ballgame edges close to a monthly car payment.

They keep coming because they love baseball, even if a game between the Yankees and Red Sox lasts longer than some cricket matches.

It’s not as if this season hasn’t had its moments. Derek Jeter becoming the first Yankee to make the 3,000-hit club was certainly worth of celebration in New York, while Jim Thome hitting his 600th home run was cause to celebrate, too, even if no one did.

The Pirates were a great story while they lasted, the Phillies have a pitching staff for the ages, and there’s a lefty in Los Angeles who draws comparisons with Sandy Koufax himself. New ownership in Chicago hasn’t made the Cubs any better quite yet, but fans at Wrigley can’t help but feel there may be better days ahead.

The best news this week won’t help the Dodgers make the playoffs, but it certainly cheered the team’s fans. Outside of Frank McCourt selling the team to some deep-pocketed billionaire unafraid to sign Prince Fielder, the announcement by Vin Scully that he will be behind the microphone next year at the age of 84 was the next best thing for a beleaguered franchise.

And, with steroids seemingly on the run, there’s just as good a chance you might see a 2-1 pitchers’ duel these days rather than watch a home run derby break out.

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