Steroid Scandal Hits Home For Baseball Fan, Son

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Baseball's steroid scandal has hurt 8-year-old Joe Gullo's love for the game. i

Jim Gullo and his 8-year-old son, Joe, play a baseball board game called Cadaco All-Star Baseball. Gullo played the game when he was growing up. He bought it on eBay so he could share it with his son. Tom Goldman/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Tom Goldman/NPR
Baseball's steroid scandal has hurt 8-year-old Joe Gullo's love for the game.

Jim Gullo and his 8-year-old son, Joe, play a baseball board game called Cadaco All-Star Baseball. Gullo played the game when he was growing up. He bought it on eBay so he could share it with his son.

Tom Goldman/NPR

As another baseball season approaches, the sport's steroid scandal certainly isn't forgotten.

It's presenting challenges for time-honored baseball relationships like the one between author Jim Gullo and his 8-year-old son, Joe. They live in McMinnville, Ore., more than 200 miles from the nearest Major League ballpark, in Seattle. But their father-son baseball connection couldn't be stronger if they lived in the shadow of Yankee Stadium.

Gullo, 52, introduced his son to an old baseball board game that he used to play as a kid. He also was Joe's Little League coach. When Joe turned 7, Gullo got him a PlayStation 2 baseball video game that his son fell in love with.

But that same year, the Mitchell Report on doping in baseball was released. Gullo suddenly had to confront a dark reality of cheating and lying, and drugs. Many of the top players in Joe's video game were implicated in the report, as was the player whose name was on Joe's new baseball glove. Joe's prized baseball card collection became possible evidence of wrongdoing. He started separating cards that had suspicious home run numbers — a big surge in home runs, followed by a drop-off. He'd crunch the numbers and then ask his dad if the player did steroids.

"What do you answer to that?" Gullo asks. "I have no idea, and I don't know how to counsel my kid."

Joe started forming his own opinions and didn't bother delving into the gray areas of the steroid scandal.

Gullo recounts an incident from last year.

"We were standing in an airport in Calgary, and we hadn't been talking about baseball for weeks, and Joe turned to me and said, 'Barry Bonds is terrible. He's a cheater. He shouldn't be allowed to play.'

"And I said, 'Well, what do you mean? Bonds has said he either didn't do steroids or that he didn't know he had actually done them.' And Joe gave me the most withering look and said, 'Everybody knows Bonds did them.' "

The Gullos can still share some fun moments when Joe plays his video game, but they had stopped going to Seattle Mariners games before moving from Seattle to Oregon last August. Gullo says that as much as it pains him, he is pulling away from baseball.

"Frankly, I am reluctant as a parent to really push baseball as a passion right now," he says, "because I don't know what's going to come out next, or how this is all going to shake out, or who else is going to be named."

Gullo is now working on a book about his connection with Joe and baseball. As part of the project, Gullo is considering a summer trip with his son. To find, as he says, a new kind of baseball hero.

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