On the night of Sept. 8, 1998, my family and I gathered around the TV to watch a baseball game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs, in hopes of watching Mark McGwire hit home run No. 62 to become the single-season home run king.
In the fourth inning, McGwire connected off of Steve Trachsel for a bomb to left field that broke Roger Maris' record and left McGwire in a category all his own.
Everyone knows now that McGwire used steroids during that season and at various periods throughout his career. But as a 10-year-old kid watching one of the most revered records in sports being broken, I was in awe of Big Mac's prowess and had no idea about rumors of PED use or anything else that might make people question the record's validity.
Today's sports world is another story. Every day it seems there are more and more sports headlines that make you shake your head in disgust:
Alex Rodriguez under suspicion again for using PEDs; Lance Armstrong finally confessing to doping his way to seven Tour de France titles after years of denial; Miami football under investigation for violation of NCAA rules; heck, even the NCAA under investigation for misconduct.
It sure is a weird time to be a sports fan right now. The biggest baseball stars are essentially guilty of using PEDs until proven innocent nowadays. Penn State football, once one of most respected programs in the nation, crumbles because of the sick and vile actions of a former assistant coach and everyone involved with the program covers it up. Armstrong, who would've gone down as one of the greatest American athletes ever, is suddenly disgraced and was no different than the rest of his competitors. Even Tiger Woods, as dominant a golfer as he is (or at least was or maybe still is, I don't know), had affairs.
There was a time when I hoped Rodriguez would end his career as the all-time home run leader. I believed in Armstrong's Tour victories and his remarkable story. I believed that despite some rough edges, Woods was just an ultra-competitor who wasn't the most media-friendly guy.
I don't believe in those things anymore.
I know athletes aren't saints and not always the best role models, but it really makes me wonder sometimes what we can believe in any more when it comes to sports. Will there ever come a time when broken records and accomplishments aren't met with a skeptical eye until there is definitive proof? If there's a feel-good story about an athlete, can we believe the story or do we simply see it as too good to be true?
I'm thankful for the job I have and the athletes I write about every day. For every new story that arises about a superstar using drugs or cheating, I'm watching something real that makes me believe there are still things that are pure in sports:
I believe in athletes who stay humble even as they rack up great individual accomplishments. Every athlete I've ever talked to for a story for The News has always talked about how the team won or lost together and if asked about their own individual performance, they mention how they received help from teammates.
I believe in athletes who go on to have great college careers and make the most of those opportunities There are never hints of improper benefits or academic probation; these athletes are thrilled with the chances they've been given and they don't waste them.
I believe in a community supporting a team with everything it has, whether it's a local sports boosters club raising money for new uniforms and equipment or giving a team support on the road during a big playoff game.
I believe in teams that accomplish things that have never been done before in the history of their school and they do it with a total team effort.
I believe in the fierce competitive spirit of local rivalries when county rivals play each other and there's not a seat to be had in the bleachers, on the sideline or around the fences of a diamond.
I believe in teams that stick together through hardships and play for each other.
I believe in communities that remember, honor and support friends and family who have battled cancer by holding Pink Games to raise money for the fight against cancer.
I believe in coaches who are passionate about what they do and teach their players to be better athletes and better people.
I believe in athletes who accomplish great things on a national level, but never forget where they came from and are always proud to support their hometown.
I believe in the little-used bench player who makes a big shot to help their team during a game.
The national sports scene can often be crazy and a bit of a letdown, but I know there's still a lot to believe in here in Northeast Michigan.