I’m a baseball nut. A fanatic. I grew up in a baseball-centric family. Parents and grandparents were all (Red Sox) fans. I went to Fenway Park with my grandpa when I was about 8 years old (summer vacation) and ate hot dogs with brown (spicy) mustard while we sat near Pesky’s Pole and watched the boys from Boston take on Harvey’s Wallbangers from Milwaukee. My mom thought Ted Williams was the shiznet (before that term even existed) and my oldest brother idolized Carl Yazstremski. I’m not even going to Google that to see if I spelled his name correctly.
We moved to Texas when I was 5 years old. So my parents – and all my older siblings – had memories of Yaz, Rico Petrocelli, Carlton Fisk, Dewey Evans, and Bernie Carbo. Meanwhile, I was left to latch on to Toby Harrah and Mike Hargrove. But the cool thing is that it didn’t matter. I loved – and still love – baseball.
But today I learned that I am a dying breed.
First, an article in the Wall Street Journal was brought up on the local sports station I listen to. I have tried to find this article online but have failed to do so. The gist, however, was that baseball is losing the younger generation. And after a phone conversation I had tonight, I could not agree with that assessment more.
A very dear friend of mine from an affluent suburb of Austin, TX (let’s call it Spripping Drings) called to ask my advice on how she should approach the coach of her 11 year old son because of concerns with his methods. As she described the methods, I was immediately taken back to my junior high football days. Those days, by the way, lasted exactly one year.
Push-ups. More push-ups if someone is not doing them properly. Laps, sprints, lunges. If someone doesn’t keep up with the rest? Do it again.
Did I mention that the kid was 11 years old? When I was 11 years old I don’t even think I was playing organized baseball. I never played tee ball, started in Mustang League (2 years there), played Bronco League (another 2 years) and then nothing until high school. So maybe ages 7-10?
When I played in high school, I ended up batting cleanup for a 5A school in the DFW area for many games. And that is not to brag because I was perhaps the suckiest cleanup hitter in the history of ever in a district that featured Arlington, Martin, Richland, L.D. Bell, etc. And the guy hitting in front of me was the one all the scouts came to see.
But now, wow. Baseball is different for the kids.
There are select leagues for kids of all ages and they are competitive as hell and expensive to boot. These leagues have travel costs and all sorts of “hidden” fees. They have fees to get a number put on a batting helmet. They ask for more money to upgrade the bat bags to a specific model. (Both were brought up in tonight’s conversation.) When I played little league baseball we all shared helmets and only the richest of the rich kids had his own bat, let alone a bag for said bat.
And here is the true downside: My friend’s son wants to be done with baseball. It is no longer fun for him because this coach, who used to play college ball, is trying to live out his failed dreams vicariously through 11 year olds. Eleven!
As I told my friend, there are kids in the Dominican Republic that grow up playing “baseball” with a broom stick and a ball made of wadded up tape. Many – not a vast majority, but many – of those kids become professional baseball players. Some may say that they were motivated to “make it” because they had few other options.
That may be true. But I’d counter that the love of the game was not beaten out of them before they reached their teenage years and it allowed them to flourish.
Why should I hate you?
After all, it’s been so long.
– Whiskeytown, “Empty Baseball Park”