MULKEYTOWN, Ill. (BP)–Far removed from the hubbub of an exhibition game just 45 minutes from starting, the sun was setting on a distant diamond at the back of the Houston Astros training complex.
On this isolated field — with no spectators looking on — Jeff Kent played baseball with his three children.
All of Kent’s Houston teammates were either hanging around the clubhouse or out on the stadium’s field warming up for their upcoming game with the New York Mets. Kent, however, was pitching to his children and chasing young Lauren, Colton and Hunter as they ran around the bases.
For some reason, this scene captivated me, and I stood there watching with a smile on my face. It was surreal, and I thought to myself that this is what baseball is supposed to be.
Today, the sport of professional baseball is marred by all kinds of stains. Steroid rumors and accusations won’t go away, no matter how much Bud Selig hopes to squelch them by prohibiting players from talking about the issue.
Competitive balance, or the lack thereof, remains a pressing problem. The New York Yankees trading for Alex Rodriguez assured us of another season sure to be filled with arguments ad nauseam about baseball’s need for a salary cap.
On and on we could go. But the picture of Kent and his kids playing baseball reminded me of what it is I love about the game. It’s not about the superstars who load up on performance enhancers to jack balls out of the park. It’s not about the money such players command. It’s not about whether the Yankees will win the World Series.
Ultimately, what I love about baseball is what I witnessed between one of the league’s best second basemen and his children. Kent said his kids are only with him in Florida for a week and a half during spring training, so he tries to make the most of their time together.
On their way off the field, Kent asked the typical questions and made the same kinds of remarks any father would: “Did you cut your knee up sliding?” “Your mom’s going to be mad — you slid in your new shoes.”
That’s what baseball is about. It’s about fathers and children spending many long hours playing catch and taking batting practice. It’s about friendships formed between those who share a passion for the game.
This picture of Kent playing with his children reminded me of the time my dad spent with me on a baseball field. And it stirred my expectations as I looked forward to the days when I will do the same with my son.
I saw and did many things on my recent trip to spring training in Florida. I was fortunate enough to interview players like John Smoltz, Andy Pettitte and Lance Berkman, among others. I spent lots of time with an old buddy. I ate delicious ballpark hot dogs. I sat in beautiful weather and watched a beautiful game.
But the image I remember most vividly came courtesy of Jeff Kent and his kids playing a child’s game together — just the way it ought to be.
Tim Ellsworth is a regular columnist for BPSports, online at www.bpsports.net.