Experts say the number of kids playing baseball in America is declining.
Take Little League. Last year about 1 million kids played Little League, compared to 2.5 million in 1996. I couldn’t find statistics for the 50’s and 60’s, but my guess is more kids played then.
The numbers are skewed even more when you consider lots of girls play today, but not back when I played.
Part of the reason less kids are playing baseball is health. Experts say parents want to see their children involved in more active sports, like soccer. A girl or boy goes to a two hour soccer practice and most of the time he/she is running.
In today’s health conscious world, parents like that. Plus, sports like lacrosse and field hockey are also gaining support in schools and summer leagues.
Let’s face it, if you played baseball as a kid, you stood around most of the time.
Maybe the only time you ran was in game situations after you hit the ball.
Thinking back, if practice didn’t consist of live game situations, you hardly ran at all — unless you chased down a ball in the outfield.
Moreover — at least when I played — we never did calisthenics or long runs at baseball practice.
Of course, the internet gets blamed today for keeping kids indoors, playing video games.
On the ‘hill’ where I grew up — starting at age 7 or 8 — we formed teams and played without adult supervision. We played until dark. We also played games related to baseball such as stickball or wall ball. We made up a game with two on a side, a pitcher and fielder. The batter used a regular wood bat to hit a fast pitched tennis ball standing in front of a wall.
We drew a chalk strike zone on the wall and the pitcher called balls and strikes, after he released the ball. We didn’t need video replay, we policed the game ourselves.
We became experts at visiting tennis courts and stealing balls.
In the African American community the numbers are dropping even more. Since 1986, the percentage of African Americans in the Major Leagues have dropped from 19 percent to 8.5 percent.
More African American kids seem to be drawn to basketball and football; besides thinking the game is too slow, many black kids also think baseball isn’t cool.
There’s been an explosion, however, of Latinos in baseball. Fox News estimated that 24 percent of players on major league rosters on opening day were born in Latin American countries.
Nineteen of 30 Major League teams today offer radio broadcasts of their games in Spanish. Major League games are available in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean — through ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN +.
Although the numbers are getting smaller, there are millions of kids still playing baseball — just like Nick in the feature photo. In fact, Nick’s grandfather was my first coach — at age 15, on the ‘hill,’ across the river from Manayunk. He later coached his three sons.
And let me tell you, he was a damn good coach!