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FAITHFUL FAN | Former Astros’ minor-leaguer reflects on baseball’s scandal

Former minor league pitcher Chris George is finding rewards as a high school coach these days, having taken over the Bishop DuBourg High School baseball team last season.

What he especially likes is that the students want to play the game because they enjoy it. It saddens George a bit though when the teens hear about cheating in sports.

On Nov. 12, former Houston Astros player Mike Fiers publicly alleged in an article published by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic that the Astros had engaged in sign-stealing methods in 2017 that violated Major League Baseball’s rules. That was the year the Astros won the World Series. The rules prohibit the use of electronic equipment during games and state that no such equipment “may be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a club an advantage.”

Broadcaster Bob Costas explained the severity of the cheating with an analogy. Using technology during a game to relay an opposing catcher’s signs is similar to a student using a phone during an ACT test to look up answers, he said.

George is a 1995 graduate of DuBourg where he was an All-Conference shortstop for the conference champions that year. He later earned first team All Big 12 honors as a relief pitcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia and was drafted by the Houston Astros in 1999.

It was the steroids era, with players being targeted for using drugs to enhance their performances. “I didn’t do it because I had a degree (economics) in my back pocket,” he said. “I fought the hard way up.”

It was an individual decision to use steroids, and the users didn’t talk about it, he said.

In his view, some players seek to gain whatever advantage they can because they don’t have a college degree and come from poverty, many of them from the Dominican Republic or elsewhere where a ticket to the major leagues is a way their families can thrive. George cited a player from Venezuela who saw success in baseball as a way to bring his family to the United States and away from an unstable region.

George is taken aback by the sign-stealing because of the collaborative effort it required to pull it off.

The cheating and other unethical behavior in baseball gets a lot of attention, but it’s also prevalent at times in other sports such as football and in business and other areas of society, George pointed out.

He said during the steroids era, when he played in the minors and led the Astros’ Class A Michigan Battle Cats with 24 saves and a 1.38 earned run average, plenty of players took the high road and shunned performance-enhancing drugs. “A lot of people know better,” George said, adding that baseball teams often have a group of players with a strong faith background.

High school players, however, are far from the pressures of pro sports. “That’s the most fun it’ll ever be when it comes to sports,” the DuBourg coach said.

Colleges often have an overflow of talent, and it’s difficult to rise above that to find playing time. And only a tiny percentage of players get drafted to play baseball in the pros, where competition is so much tougher.

George wonders if the possible use of electronic strike zones for calling balls and strikes, something that has been proposed, could lead to further scandals if teams found a way to adjust the settings.

But a baseball cheating scandal, George said, “is a long way from where the kids are at. They bring an innocence and purity to the game.”

He praises DuBourg for providing an education that stresses knowing right from wrong and that the end does not justify the means. “This is a safe place to have a kid go through school. The coaching staffs are well prepared for issues that arise.”

Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville.

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