Life with Kids · Parenting teens · Parenting tweens

The Decline of Baseball – And Why it Matters

Years ago I read the book A Reasonable Life: Toward a Simpler, Secure, More Sane Existence by Ference Matte.  In this book, Matte laments the loss of simple pleasures, among them baseball.  He compares the joys of a Sunday afternoon pick-up game to the intense, high stakes sport that kids play today.  Maybe he has a point, but as the mother of a boy playing intense, high stakes baseball, I can tell you that it is anything but a joyless sport.  My son loves the game and everything that goes with it – long practices, weekends away, the fierce competition.Still, I wonder if he will still be playing five years from now.  I wonder if he’ll have anyone to play with.

Apparently, baseball is dying or at least significantly declining.  According to this article in The Washington Post,  Rob Manfred, the new commissioner of Major League Baseball, has concerns about the sport’s decreasing appeal to young people.  The article points out that MLB viewers are the oldest of any sport, with 50 percent being over the age of 50.  And for the first time ever there are no baseball players among ESPN’s list of favorite athletes. Perhaps most telling, is the fact that over the last 12 years the number of kids participating in Little League Baseball has dropped sharply, causing many towns to resort to multi-city teams and leagues.  With the sport losing  popularity, it’s no wonder that some Little League teams and high school are struggling to recruit enough players. Buy why?  Why is America’s favorite sport loosing ground with American kids?

Baseball is too slow for a generation of kids raised on TV and video games.
As Fisher points out, baseball involves a lot of waiting. Waiting for a turn to bat. Waiting in the outfield for the ball to come your way. Waiting for someone to finally hit the ball or to strike out. Baseball is also a thinking game. In some ways it requires more patience and concentration than football or basketball. There’s less hustle and more calculation. For kids used to instant entertainment and near constant stimulation, baseball can seem boring.

It’s expensive to play baseball.
Bats, gloves, helmets, shoes, private lessons. All that adds up in a hurry. Then there’s the cost of travel…

There is growing pressure for kids to specialize.
As I mentioned, my son is on a high stakes team. He loves it. We love it. But if I’m being honest, I have to admit that we are part of the problem. It can be a significant financial burden for parents to have a child play on a traveling team. There’s the expense of travel and time away from work. That eliminates some kids who might otherwise play. And traveling teams have a longer season than city league teams — some even play year round. So the boys on these teams naturally get in a lot more practice. When summer rolls around again, some kids’ only experience with the game is getting clobbered by teams who play several months out of the year. For these kids, soon baseball just isn’t that fun anymore.

Kids from single parent homes are far less likely to play baseball.
According Fisher’s article, a recent study by David Ogden at the University of Nebraska found that 95 percent of all college baseball players come from two parent homes. That is a remarkable statistic, but the logic is simple. Boys learn to love and play baseball from their dads. Not only that, but considering the substantial financial and time commitment that the game often requires, many single parent homes likely find it difficult to manage the sport.

Baseball is a humble sport.
In addition to the other strikes against baseball (pun intended), Fisher makes the point that baseball has far fewer big time celebrity players than football or basketball. That’s because the nature of the game does not lend itself to show stealing or cockiness. Thanks to big money endorsement deals and massive fan followings, young boys are more likely to be drawn to flashier, more in-your-face sports.

The way kids play has changed.
It’s easy to blame video games, but the way kids play has changed for a lot of reason. The days of The Sandlot are over. Parents today are far less likely to send kids out into the neighborhood to play unsupervised for hours on end. And school recesses are much shorter and more controlled than ever before. It might be possible in twenty minutes for kids to run a few football plays or a play a quick game of basketball. But it’s not likely that they will have enough time to organize and execute even one inning of baseball.

So, what does it matter? Unless you are a rabid baseball fan, who really cares if the game continues to attract kids and be America’s favorite sport?

It matters because even those who aren’t fans of the game admit that baseball is a great sport. Baseball requires a different level of discipline than other sports. Baseball combines athleticism and brain power. Baseball matters because it has shaped our culture and our kids for decades. It is a part of our history. But mostly it matters because, as a friend of mine who has coached the game pointed out, baseball is a microcosm of America. The things that affect baseball — money, the family, values, and how kids spend their time — are things that affect us all.

Chet with his coach (photo courtesy of Making Memories with Ms. Heather)
Chet with his coach
(photo courtesy of Making Memories with Ms. Heather)

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Source: Baseball is Struggling to Hook Kids – and May Lose Fans to Other Sports, The Washington Post

8 thoughts on “The Decline of Baseball – And Why it Matters

  1. I love baseball and I see it declining also. One thing that you did not mention (with Jackie Robinson Day a couple of days away) is that baseball is really not played in the inner city anymore. It has become much like soccer.

    I played Little League and we used to play all the time in during the summer. About seven years ago, my son and I (he was 10) drove around the city I lived in and all the ball fields were behind close gates and locked. I found it appalling. Kids are not able to go down to the ball field and make up their own games like we did.

    Also, these travel teams have killed the fun for kids. My son was on a travel team for about a year until I pulled him off. The things I saw: The coach lying about his resume, kids playing in unhealthy conditions, the embarrassing of kids and some shady financial stuff turned (my son was 11) the game from “Play Ball” to “Work Ball” and I see a lot of kids give it up. The problem is that these parents get the kids involved at early ages. I can understand 13-14 but 7-8 years old. Not cool.

    The funniest thing I have ever seen was something called Junior Giants. It is a program that the San Francisco Giants have in different communities. It is free, stress-free and welcomes all. I coached a team that had both my son and daughter. My son had played a little and I had about 4 kids who had played. The other 12 (including my daughter) had never played. It was so cool. Every kid got a chance to play and learn the game. It was wonderful.

    1. I love the sound of the Junior Giants program. I think it will take a wave of programs like that to save baseball. If the MLB teams would promote free leagues for the love of the game, things might swing (pardon the pun) the other way.

  2. We just had my son’s first coach pitch game last night. He loves it, but I worry too. We won’t be able to afford the more expensive leagues when he gets older, like you pointed out above. I’d rather we could just have fun with it.

    1. Where we live the main expense is the travel. I know in larger towns and cities families are spending thousands on private lessons to ensure their children can get on these teams. It’s so sad.

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