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A Sad Sports Fan Returns to Reality

The Doctor's In

By M.d. Stankiewicz

Sports is a fantasy world, a release for so many Americans from the rigors of day-to-day modern society.

Let's face it. Over the last few months, sports has brought a lot of fantasy-seekers back to reality. And the delay of Opening Day in baseball doesn't promise much solace for some soul-searching spectators.

It all started with the October Classic, which became in a few brief moments the October Nightmare. Candlestick Park shook, major league baseball shuddered and the World Series was split by tragedy. Debates raged about whether or not the Series should be finished, but for all intents and purposes--both competitively and in terms of fan interest--it was over the moment our television screens went blank.

The Oakland A's swept the Series, but no one cared. No one will remember. They will remember Jose Canseco helping a frightened child out of the stands.

Then Billy Martin died in a drunk-driving accident in upstate New York.

The New York Yankees' All-Star second baseman had become a folk hero as a manager for New York and Texas and New York and Oakland and New York and New York. Somehow, people in New York City always got a chuckle out of Martin's antics.

Sure, he rarely managed to stay out of trouble for long, especially with long-time employer and nemesis George Steinbrenner, but he was adored by the masses. He grabbed our attention, took us away from reality.

He yelled and screamed. We yelled and screamed back.

Today, he is silent. And so are we.

For Boston fans, the winter has been relentless. Tony Conigliaro, the "embodiment" of the Red Sox organization, died last month.

He was a can't-miss player, a superstar-to-be, and then his career was tragically cut short by a beanball. He struggled to make it back. He was everyone's hero.

And even his struggle has ended.

Eternal Hope in Spring

Sports fans looked for consolation somewhere. At least spring training was right around the corner and right behind it, March Madness. Hope remained.

But major league baseball, the most popular spectator sport in the country, double-crossed us. The owners locked, the players walked and, in terms of Opening Day, everyone balked.

It's March 16, and spring training hasn't begun. The Cincinnati Reds wear green uniforms for their St. Patrick's Day game every year. This year, the green uniforms will continue to gather dust.

Disgust is rampant among baseball fans. "I'll still go to the games, but I won't cheer and I won't yell," one fan wrote in a letter to The Sporting News. "I'll just sit and watch. I won't say a word."

And then March Madness became the madness of March 4. Playing in the semifinals of the Big West tournament, Loyola-Marymount's Hank Gathers collapsed after a slam dunk. The NCAA's leading scorer and rebounder from a year ago, Gathers was a blue-chipper, a can't-miss, a superstar-to-be.

Every fan saw the picture of Gathers prone at midcourt while his weeping mother stood over him. Every fan saw the picture of Gathers' best friend, LaSalle's Lionel Simmons, being consoled by his mother during a game after he had heard the news.

An autopsy on Gathers' body showed a heavily-diseased and scarred heart muscle.

This was no fantasy world. This was no escape from reality.

It's been a sad few months. Sports fans have scarred hearts, too.

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