Despite honest efforts to save baseball as a youth sport, we are rapidly losing young athletes who see other sports as key to their success. Baseball is in danger of becoming a sport for little kids and followed only by senior citizens if we don’t right the ship – quickly.
Is baseball still fun and interesting to kids as they get older?
Baseball and softball combined together are still the most popular youth sports in America today. The big disconnect happens when young players start hitting age 13 or older and then become disenchanted with baseball and move on to other sports like football or basketball as more “interesting” and perceived as having more professional opportunities.
How does Major League Baseball keep young players in the pipeline so that the sport can continue to grow? First of all, keep it fun. Sports doesn’t have to be about toughness, life lessons, courage and sacrifice (these of course are all qualities that can be learned by playing sports) but they should be about having a blast playing something fun and making friends along the way. Why do you think older Americans love baseball? We remember the great times we had playing or simply watching the game. I still think of snow cones as something I got after playing a ball game in the southern California desert heat in June. Bags of peanuts are not bought in the grocery store but at the ballpark.
MLB teams can’t rely on the league office to run youth baseball programs – if you run it, they will come! Each MLB team needs to invest money into developing their own region as a hotbed of baseball and yes softball too. So many girls can and do play both sports at a young age, let them develop in both sports and if they continue to play baseball, let the girls keep going. Any girl who can handle a four seamer fastball and play the hot corner with older boys deserves to have a chance to continue playing ball all the way up to the big leagues.
Each MLB team needs to be in charge of a specific geographic region and work directly with Little League and other organizations such as the American Legion and directly promote youth baseball and softball leagues not only in inner cities but in small towns across America. Ball clubs can also start developing youth academies much in the same vein that international soccer teams start recruiting and promoting young talent.
MLB teams also have minor league affiliations scattered across the country and partnerships with independent baseball leagues. These teams could also add additional responsibilities for developing local baseball talent including mentorship and skills development camps for young players. Being throughout the United States, MiLB teams also have the opportunity to promote baseball in communities all over the country. Through philanthropic partnerships, MLB teams and their minor league affiliates could provide more fields and equipment to youth programs nationally.
Furthermore, MLB teams can also develop scholarship programs for college baseball and softball teams in their regions. This would not affect NCAA eligibility per se because these players would still be considered amateurs and simply recipients of scholarship money. Let’s face it, the day and age of “amateur” college sports is pretty much over with the transfer portal and the NIL incentives to make young college athletes wealthy through endorsements. Having MLB teams combined with charitable organizations develop scholarships for baseball and softball players is a drop in the bucket compared to the multi-billion dollar sports of college football and basketball.
For those of you asking about costs, what is the cost of doing nothing? If MLB teams want to sit
on their hands and wait for players to come to them, they may be waiting in vain down the road in a matter of a few short years. Developing the sport means saving baseball for the future and any program that can create a sense of fun and enjoyment while playing ball is a worthwhile investment in the future.
Not every youth player will show the talent to move up to the collegiate or professional level; however, young ball players grow up and can share their love of the sport with their children and go to baseball games for decades to come. Through vigorous local and regional participation, MLB teams can develop their future players and their future fans at the same time.