Leave it to a pooch to put things in perspective.
While the rest of us have been wringing our hands about the national pastime's drug problem and wondering where our Joe DiMaggios have gone, or trying to stay current on Tony Romo's girlfriends, Jonathan Papelbon's dog was happily shredding a World Series ball.
Not just any World Series ball, mind you. The ball caught for the final out of Boston's sweep of the Rockies this fall.
``He plays with baseballs like they are his toys,'' Papelbon told the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American. ``He jumped up one day on the counter and snatched it. He likes rawhide. He tore that thing to pieces.''
How perfectly appropriate. Especially now.
For all the importance we attach to them, sports are the human equivalent of chew toys. They make us happy. They entertain us. They give us something to do. But at the end of the day, they are only a diversion from the things that matter most.
A jersey is merely a piece of cloth - or some combination of synthetic fibers nowadays. A football is only leather. A star athlete is a mere mortal like everybody else, no matter how much money he or she has in the bank.
And a baseball that might have fetched thousands and thousands of dollars on the collector's market can come to the same, slobbery, bite-marked end as a $2.99 squeaky toy.
``That's a perfect example of value being relative,'' said Dan Imler, managing director of SCP Auctions, which handled Barry Bonds' 756th home run ball.
``Obviously, it wasn't being closely guarded,'' Imler said Friday, ``or Jonathan Papelbon didn't have the same sense of history with regard to that ball that I think some other people would have had. ... I guess you could chalk it up to his innocence to some degree.''
Frankly, we could use more innocence these days. Levity, too.
This month alone, we've had the Mitchell Report knock Roger Clemens off his Hall of Fame pedestal - or at least make him teeter precariously - and sully the names of dozens of others. Former NFL star Michael Vick was sentenced to federal prison for using and abusing puppies. Bobby Petrino ran out on his Atlanta Falcons' train wreck and showed up in Arkansas calling ``pig sooie!'' then acted oblivious as to why anyone might have a problem with that.
Isiah Thomas and the New York Knicks get more dysfunctional by the day. Chris Simon continues to solidify his reputation as the NHL's biggest thug, drawing the league's longest suspension - again. And a chunk of the Florida State team might miss the Music City Bowl because of an academic cheating scandal.
Sometimes it's hard to remember why we care so much in the first place.
Sports are what distract us when everyday life gets too overwhelming. They can be the glue in our most dear and our most difficult relationships, the common thread that keeps us talking.
They can even inspire us. In case anyone missed it - and, unfortunately, most probably did - Falcons running back Warrick Dunn helped yet another single parent become a homeowner this week. That's 74 families and counting that he's helped in 10 years.
But when it comes down to it, it's really not the games or the players themselves that matter so much. It's what they represent, and the memories that come with them.
Ask anyone to recall their first baseball or football game and, odds are, they can't tell you the final score or maybe even who won. But they can tell you how special they felt as they sat next to their mom or dad or a grandparent. How they could feel the roar of the crowd, and how they got goose bumps when they got that first glimpse of players running onto the court or field.
When Brett Favre is asked about the many records he now holds and what they mean to him, he usually reflects instead on the guys he played with. The relationships that were built, the friends that were made. Those are memories no game ball can ever touch in value.
Maybe that's why Papelbon and the Red Sox are shrugging off the fact that Boss the bulldog just chewed through a piece of their history.
It's not as if this ball had the same sentimental value as the one from 2004, when the Red Sox won their first World Series title in 86 years. And there's still plenty of memorabilia from this World Series win. Cooperstown alone got almost a dozen items, including Papelbon's glove.
``Would we love to have it? Yes,'' said Jeff Idelson, spokesman for the Hall of Fame. ``Does it preclude us from telling the story (of the 2007 World Series) completely? No.''
There are bigger things that matter. Papelbon's dog gets a pat on the head for the reminder.
---
Nancy Armour is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to her at narmourap.org

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