I’m here to save baseball.
No, not Major League Baseball. Despite the ridiculous economic disparity that still stacks the deck in favor of teams from major TV markets, it continues to fill parks and make billions.
I’m talking about the sport, which, according to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, is struggling to find kids who want to play.
In 2000, more than eight million kids ages seven to 17 participated in youth baseball. By 2013 that number had dropped to 5,3 million.
So, how to fix it:
1. Teach kids how to play before giving them a uniform and expecting them to perform in a game. The average baseball fan –who’s over 50, by the way — learned how to play the game before he signed up for Little League. In 2015, kids are handed uniforms and then taught the game.
2. Use a ball that little kids can catch.
The days of kids playing pick-up games in their back yards or at the neighborhood field are over.
Before a kid plays in a baseball game with a real baseball or even with one of those slightly softer youth baseballs, he should show an ability to catch a nerf ball, tennis ball or rubber ball.
I know the parents like to see their kids playing pretend baseball, but they would learn how to catch and throw a lot quicker if they played with a ball that didn’t hurt them.
3. Forget the six-inning games for six, seven and eight year-olds.
Kids that age have the attention span of a gnat.
Why would you expect them to enjoy standing in the outfield for two hours waiting for a ball or two that they have no chance of catching?
They like soccer and basketball because they’re always moving and it’s simple – run and kick or shoot the ball into the net.
Since they don’t come to youth baseball with the skills that kids in the dark ages used to hone in their back yards with a whiffle ball or a tennis ball, make learning how to play fun.
Devise skill competitions. Yeah, that’s right. Competition.
Little kids, especially boys, love to compete.
Let them wear their uniforms and participate in catching, throwing and hitting competitions. Keep score and post the scores.
Declare a winner at the end.
These competitions could be going on at different parts of the field to keep as many kids moving and competing as possible.
Unlike standing at home plate worrying about getting hit with a pitch thrown by a kid who has no business pitching, the skills could be practiced in back yards.
After the kids have had, you know, fun, competing in games that they can actually be expected to master, let them play a two inning game.
And they shouldn’t play with a baseball until they’ve shown an ability to catch a ball that can’t hurt them.
The most important thing should be making sure the ball is put into play as much and as quickly as possible.
If that means a tee, fine. Remember you’re competing with soccer, Lacrosse, basketball and maybe hockey.
Keep the standing around to a minimum.
If you’re going to have a pitcher, only let the kids who can pitch pitch. Seventeen kids shouldn’t be expected to enjoy standing around watching another kid learn to pitch.
Don’t put the kid on the mound until he proves he belongs there.
The parents may be deprived of seeing a structured facsimile of a baseball game, but their kids would be having fun and learning how to play.
There are very few things more excruciatingly boring than watching seven, eight and nine year-olds playing “baseball.”
Ten and 11-year olds aren’t much better.
And, please, if you have a kid playing on a travel team, this isn’t for you. Your kid is an exception.
I have four grandsons, ages 11-13. They all started playing baseball when they were six or seven. Only one is playing this year. They play hockey, basketball and football. Ask them why they stopped playing baseball and they’ll give you a simple, honest answer.
I blame that on the adults.