Problems are only problems until we find solutions. In the case of baseball, the obvious solution to saving the sport is simply making it more fun, enjoyable and accessible to young players nationally.
Baseball as a youth sports need to fix itself or face irrelevancy down the road.
Yes, Major League Baseball has been in the fight to promote youth baseball and softball programs in lower socio-economic areas with the ‘Play Ball” and “Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI)” initiatives. These programs have become invaluable in promoting youth baseball and softball in cities across the United States. Other programs such as the ID Tour, Hank Aaron Invitational, DREAM Series and the Andre Dawson Classic all serve to promote the games of baseball and softball to young athletes who may feel they are geared towards other sports opportunities. At a minimum, these organizations are trying to bring baseball back to city lots and provide necessary equipment for kids to be able to play.
The 64 million dollar question is simple: is this enough? Despite all of the honest (and I truly mean honest) efforts, baseball is fading away as our national pastime and young athletes look to football and basketball as their primary sports when they get to high school age.
Travel and competitive baseball programs have become the driving force behind the trajectory
shift in youth baseball. Recreational leagues are no longer considered “worthy” as a means of playing baseball because, well, they just aren’t “good enough.” But who’s making these types of statements? Parents are now the biggest influence behind youth sports with large sporting goods manufacturers more than willing to sell expensive equipment to make players “better.”
Many parents today live vicariously through their kids’ sports endeavors. I’m a retired high school coach and I saw this phenomenon daily over my teaching and coaching career; in the last few years the parent-led impetus to make sports about achievement and success has reached a fever pitch. Parents push their kids to play on travel baseball teams in the hopes that they will get looked at for scholarships and then have an opportunity to play in the big leagues.
Bad news parents – the overwhelming majority of your kids will never play professional or even collegiate baseball or softball. In fact, at the NCAA Division I level, baseball and softball are equivalency sports which means a large university baseball program can only give out 11.7 scholarships for the entire team. Speaking of numbers, this means that the vast majority of players either get just a partial scholarship (10-30%) or are walk-ons paying their way through school just like any other student.
Parents drop tons of money on travel baseball teams when in fact the money spent on this programs could be used as education savings plans which would then pay for college. I had a former coaching colleague who admitted to me one day that he spent so much money on his daughter’s competitive softball career from a young age that he could have just saved the money and sent her to any college she wanted to go to. Parents, if you want your kids to play because they love playing baseball, that’s fine. Remember, sports is about them, not you.