A look at baseball's mid-season, approaching football

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By John Shindlebower

The mid-summer month of July is usually one of the slowest in the world of sports. Sure, baseball is in mid-season, but with its tedious 162-game schedule, only the most ardent fans get too worked up over the games leading up to and following the All-Star game. Most excitement occurs off the field as trade-deadlines near.

Football is still a month away, and while various training camps and involuntary workouts will soon be beginning across the NFL, the season won’t get started for several more weeks and the action is not relegated to talk radio shows.

Basketball, a season that never really ends in Kentucky, continues to dominate discussion in Kentucky as excitement continues to build toward Midnight Madness in October when the John Calipari era begins with UK entering the season with high expectations. Don’t feel too sorry for Rick Pitino’s Cardinals though, as they’ll likely be a top 20 preseason pick as well. Meanwhile, something special may be in construction down in Bowling Green as WKU continues to build a program that’s worthy of more national consideration.

Sports never really stops, it just slows down. But here’s a few things I might find myself discussing over a hot dog this Independence Day weekend.

- Whenever we go to a sporting event, be it high school, college or professional, there’s a moment before each game that’s often taken for granted. But try remembering that as you stand to face the flag and listen to the National Anthem, there are men and women in uniform who deserve more praise and thanks than the ones you just paid to watch a game.

- Baseball continues to suffer a credibility crisis because of the steroid era. McGuire, Bonds, Sosa and so many others tainted America’s game but much of the blame should go to league officials who turned a blind eye to a problem they knew existed. It’s too late to ban those players from the game that deserved to be banned, but MLB should strike the records of those who evidence clearly shows benefited from steroids. A wonderful start would be to continue to recognize Hank Aaron as baseball’s homerun king. I know Bonds passed his mark a couple of years ago, but the one thing Bonds couldn’t have passed is a steroid test had the league been bold enough to crack down on the problem when they knew it first existed.

- Speaking of homeruns - baseball should do more to properly honor the homerun kings who apparently have done things the right way. Ken Griffey, Jr. has been hampered by several injury-shortened seasons lately, but his 600 plus homeruns place him near the top of the list and there’s never been any suspicion of his achievements being tainted by steroids. Likewise, Jim Thome of the White Sox may be the most anonymous guy to ever hit over 550 home runs. Reaching 500 homers normally would make you a household name, but Thome has quietly and consistently put together a Hall-of-Fame career and like Griffey, apparently has done so legitimately.

- Anticipation for the college basketball season has probably not been this high across the state in many years. I’ll admit I’m curious and optimistic about how the new UK team will perform, but part of me recognizes that college sports is not what it used to be, especially basketball. The era of the one-and-done athlete is just beginning and you wonder if senior night at UK will ever have the same meaning as it did a few years ago. Division I basketball has become more of a NBA minor league with too many players focused not on playing for their school, but on improving the stock in the draft.

- I know most young people don’t want to think about it, but the start of another school year is not far away. High school athletes in Kentucky are in a dead period right now, but in a couple of weeks, they’ll be hard at work preparing for the upcoming season. When you drive past the practice fields and see the kids working out in the hot sun, make it a point to resolve that you’ll come out to a game this year. Playing in front of empty stands is disheartening but a supportive crowd and supportive community can make all the difference.