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Bases Loaded

The steroids controversy in baseball continues to rage—except among young fans.

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For five months now, politicians and sports columnists have been fulminating about the threat that anabolic steroids pose to the national pastime. Their crusade got a major boost in January when President Bush inveighed against steroids in his State of the Union speech.

So where’s the baseball-fan outrage as opening day approaches? Certainly not in the stands at spring training. Oh, when the Yankees’ Jason Giambi comes to bat in a road game against the Phillies, there’s a singsong chant of sterrr-oids, sterrr-oids. But it’s teasing rather than taunting. The people whom you’d expect to be disillusioned are at worst disappointed—and certainly not surprised. “Of course, guys are gonna look for an edge,” says Dan Feiss, a 39-year-old Long Island racehorse owner. “Steroids aren’t going to keep me from going to games.”

Even sports-talk radio, which wouldn’t exist without the perpetually angry fan, can’t sustain arguments about steroids for very long. “Yeah, the phone lights up when I raise the subject,” says ESPN Radio’s Wally Matthews. “But hey, the governor of California is a juice-head, and nobody cares! And the opinions are definitely generational. Who are the biggest fans of pro wrestling? Kids.”

Bush was no doubt aiming at parent voters. But younger fans aren’t just untroubled by performance-enhancing-drug use—a recent Times poll showed that 41 percent of people under 30 are “not bothered at all by the idea that pro athletes use steroids”—they’re downright accepting. “Even if they prove that Barry Bonds was on drugs, he should keep the home-run record,” says Ernie Eldridge, a 24-year-old chef on his way home from Florida. “Hey, it’s his body. And he still hit the homers.”

Eldridge, like Giambi, is covered in tattoos. He’s part of a generation that’s grown up in a culture of body enhancements both cosmetic and chemical. “Baseball’s emerging customer base doesn’t care about drug use,” says Charles Yesalis, 57, a professor of health policy at Penn State and an expert on steroids. “They don’t see baseball as noble, the way people my age did. They don’t tear up at Field of Dreams. They see it as entertainment. And they’re paying to see larger-than-life people do larger-than-life things.”hould keep the home-run record,” says Ernie Eldridge, a 24-year-old chef on his way home from Florida. “Hey, it’s his body. And he still hit the homers.”

Eldridge, like Giambi, is covered in tattoos. He’s part of a generation that’s grown up in a culture of body enhancements both cosmetic and chemical. “Baseball’s emerging customer base doesn’t care about drug use,” says Charles Yesalis, 57, a professor of health policy at Penn State and an expert on steroids. “They don’t see baseball as noble, the way people my age did. They don’t tear up at Field of Dreams. They see it as entertainment. And they’re paying to see larger-than-life people do larger-than-life things.”


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