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FAN OF THE HOUSE

Kids that love sports are depression-proof

His 6-year-old and his T-ball friends approach the game, and life, with such zest. If this is a Depression, they must think, what are the good times going to be like?

March 05, 2009|CHRIS ERSKINE

With a little luck, my son's T-ball team will remember this Not-So-Great Depression simply as a time they played ball twice a week and had a lot of fun. At the end of the game the parents would bring snacks. If the dads were worried, they didn't show it . . . not much anyway. Not as much as they probably should have. When Dad seemed depressed, you dragged him out to the frontyard for a game of catch -- to this day, the best free activity the world has ever known.

Yeah, I'm not sure what a sports-loving 6-year-old will carry away from this economic car wreck we're witnessing. Will he remember his mom complaining about the escalating cost of rice? Or how Dad skipped his haircuts?

Will he remember spending fewer nights at Dodger Stadium, next to sis and her greasy-haired boyfriend? I suppose that's one of the many glories of being a 6-year-old ballplayer -- not having a big annoying frame of reference to deal with. When you're 6, there's no past. Every day is a good old day.

These kids, my son and his buddies, I love how they play ball -- the way they pound the plate with the bat, the way they bounce up and down on first base after a hit, out-shining the sun. Yeah, they're juiced. Box juiced.

If this is a Depression, they must think, what are the good times going to be like?

I mean, could the Lakers be any more fun? In 40 years, will our kids remember sitting on the couch cheering on Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant? These Lakers of ours are one of the few feel-good stories around -- not perfect, no way. Sometimes, they seem to be 6 years old themselves. But their coach plays them like a French horn. Will a kid today remember watching these Lakers on TV -- because who could afford Staples, even in the best of times? Will he tell his grandkids about Fish, and Odom, Tex and Jeanie?

Will he remember those silly fleece robes his sisters liked to wear while watching sports on TV -- Snuggies, they call them -- the ones you wrap around yourself like a blanket . . . comfort clothing. Expect to see them on NFL sidelines this fall.

Will he remember rich men haggling over millions in baseball contract negotiations? A million here, a million there, and pretty soon you're talking about real price hikes. Will he remember player unions concerned about everything except the fans?

Will he remember General Motors the way we recall the Brooklyn Dodgers, as something in the shadows of the memory, ethereal and distant?

Will he remember newspapers?

Personally, I think newspapers still have a decent shot, because too many people still prefer to touch the news, rub the headlines between their thumb and forefinger, clip and tear and save the things they love. You can't line a hamster cage with a laptop. You can't start a good Thanksgiving fire.

In our house, it has always been the Sports page first. From the time they could walk, I taught them how to read the Sports page over breakfast and use it like a blotter for spilled Cheerios.

Sure, you know how to read a Sports page, but they didn't have a clue. You start with the smallest print, the box scores, then work your way up through the standings, the game stories, the columnists, the ads.

To borrow a late colleague's line, a newsroom in distress is like a broken home. But, especially in tough times, it's still a home -- a sanctuary, a place where ideas are sifted and values shaped. It's still a city's conscience.

Witness Bill Plaschke's smart tirades against Manny and his master. Read Steve Lopez railing, with fire and wit, on behalf of those who can't catch a break.

The world doesn't need fewer newspapers, it needs more of them. And let me ask you this: What's a life without box scores?

If the very thought of that zings you a little, there is still hope for newspapers. If you couldn't care less, we might very well be doomed.

In the meantime, I'll play the pie-eyed optimist. How will our kids grow up -- the budding shortstops and quarterbacks, the gymnasts and the midfielders? They'll grow up smiling, because as long as a kid has a ball to kick and a team to cheer, childhood will always be more than just OK. It will be seven flavors of grand. Because sports, like movies, gives us way more happy endings than real life.

Now, batter up . . .

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Erskine's Man of the House column appears Saturday in Home section.

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chris.erskine@latimes.com

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