By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
All of a sudden the Big 12’s annual baseball tournament is more about America and the American way than it is about baseball.
And that makes it a wonderful thing.
With West Virginia University representing everything that is right in the world, the tournament will be held amid the destruction and despair of the killer tornado that ripped through “Tornado Alley,” taking lives and belongings but unable to take the spirit of the hardy brand of people who tamed our Wild West.
While the tournament’s purpose is to crown a Big 12 champion, it will certainly be a hollow championship no matter on which head the crown eventually rests.
There was much discussion over the past few days since the storm savaged the Oklahoma City area over whether or not the tournament should be played at all, the final decision being to go on with the tournament, changing the format from round robin to pool play with proceeds going to tornado relief.
That, of course, was something WVU coach Randy Mazey and his Mountaineer team had taken on themselves, going out and purchasing some $4,000 worth of necessities at a local Walmart and delivering them to area’s victims.
It was an experience worth more, perhaps, than anything else they will have in their collegiate careers, be it athletic, academic or social.
“It was overwhelming to see how much stuff that everybody’s bringing for the families in need,” Mazey said. “Just the fact that we can pitch in and help out, it seems really insignificant, really just like a drop in the bucket, but I’m glad we did it.”
Mazey, who was moved to tears during the experience, saw to it that his team got more from this than they ever could have imagined they would from a baseball trip.
“I think that makes the tournament worthwhile,” he said. “It almost doesn’t matter whether we win or lose; it’s like you’re playing for somebody else now. If we can make a significant impact on the people that were affected, it doesn’t matter if we’re playing a baseball tournament or a game of checkers, we have an opportunity to raise a lot of money and help a lot of people, and I think it’s worth it.”
Too often the true value of athletics in our society is overlooked, and it takes a tragedy to bring it into view. Certainly, whenever there is a national tragedy, one of the key decisions is whether or not to allow the competition to be held.
You can go back to Pearl Harbor and the start of World War II, baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis asking President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for his advice on whether the game should go on, Roosevelt answering in what has come to be known as “The Green Light Letter.”
My dear Judge:
Thank you for yours of January fourteenth. As you will, of course, realize the final decision about the baseball season must rest with you and the Baseball club owners — so what I am going to say is solely a personal and not an official point of view.
I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before.
And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.
Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost. And, incidentally, I hope that night games can be extended because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.
As to the players themselves, I know you agree with me that the individual players who are active military or naval age should go, without question, into the services. Even if the actual quality to the teams is lowered by the greater use of older players, this will not dampen the popularity of the sport. Of course, if an individual has some particular aptitude in a trade or profession, he ought to serve the Government. That, however, is a matter which I know you can handle with complete justice.
Here is another way of looking at it — if 300 teams use 5,000 or 6,000 players, these players are a definite recreational asset to at least 20,000,000 of the fellow citizens - and that in my judgment is thoroughly worthwhile.
With every best wish,
Very sincerely yours,
Franklin D. Roosevelt
True, the NFL cancelled its games in the wake of 9/11, and it was a wise decision, but that was a different situation than this natural disaster that hit Oklahoma, which is far more in line with the San Francisco World Series earthquake, which was played to its conclusion and helped the Bay Area come out of a situation much like the one the Big 12 is facing.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.