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Baseball lost its charm when money took over

With spring coming to our doorstop again, a young man's fancy not only turns to love but to his love of baseball.

At least that is the way it used to be for me. I was an avid Chicago White Sox fan growing up. As a young radio reporter, I once got to go to Comiskey Park in Chicago to do interviews on press day. That was just about the ultimate experience for someone who lived and died with every game the Chisox played.

This avidness continued for many years, and I am happy to say I have watched Major League Baseball in 14 ball parks around the country. I have sat on a cold day in San Francisco as the Giants tried to catch fly balls in a stiff Pacific Ocean breeze.

I have seen how intimate and small the ball park in Boston is and how you can see the players close up. And, of course, I have been in the old White Sox Park and the new one.

But now my baseball enjoyment is mostly in the past tense. Comiskey Park in Chicago is now US Cellular Field, and that is one of the many reasons that I am no longer particularly interested in baseball.

Burying the many historical names of the Major League Baseball parks around the country is akin to burying kids' memories and fan support in favor of the big buck.

Also, the salaries of baseball players and the cost to get into parks are two other factors dampening the enthusiasm of even the most avid fan. The astronomical salaries and the baseball strikes and the pouting of the players have just about killed any fantasy that our heroes actually are in it for the love of the game.

So as the love of the game has faded in the players, fan love of the game also has been dimmed.

And believe me, I was a fan _ as in fanatic. I detested the Yankees when they came to face my beloved White Sox, and I exulted on the rare occasions when the Sox would actually win a series of games over the Yanks. I used to throw the baseball against my back fence in the yard, pretending that I was a White Sox pitcher striking out batters and fielding their pathetic grounders.

Coming home from school, the first thing I wanted to know is how the Sox (and even the Cubs) did that day. And on weekends and school vacations, I was glued to the TV set watching the games.

But now it just does not seem to be the same anymore. Lest anyone think I am hard core traditionalist, let me say here that I am in favor of speeding up the game. There have been experiments to do that, but the players might pout too much.

So the game goes on slowly. What was once a game I could not get enough of now seems too much and too slow.

I also am in favor of the designated hitter for both leagues because watching the typical pitcher bat is like watching Madonna trying to sing an opera aria.

The millionaire players must like the slow part of the game, as they slowly run out routine grounders to first base rather than hustle and casually make one-handed catches even in crucial situations.

Cool is the watchword, just in case some fans might thing you care too much. Fiery players are a thing of the past, unless a player wants to display his temper for some supposed slight.

But baseball should not be cool. It is played in the summertime and should be a hot game that moves, not a cool game populated by nonchalant millionaires wasting their time and ours on muggy afternoons.

Let me make a small confession here. I was such a fan at one time that I hoped I would die some day between seasons so I knew how the past season came out. But baseball pretty much has shut down that kind of fan, including me. And, to tell you the truth, baseball for me died a long time ago _ long before I will see my Maker.

_ Douglas Spangler, a writer and former university administrator, lives in Palm Harbor.