Dear Mr. Cal Ripken,
I recently heard you on the radio discussing your new role in trying to reach the youth of America with the great game of baseball. I know that baseball participation numbers among young people have been dwindling over the last 10-12 years. I know one reason why: overzealous dads who have removed the tee from the game.
I can point to my own son’s first year of baseball experience to help explain as to why baseball has lost so many kids over the years.
I was SO excited to get my son on the diamond!
You see, baseball was my first love! I started playing as soon as I could, which for me was 7 years old. I played 8 years of baseball for Fallbrook Youth Baseball. And I LOVED every single minute of it! I played one year of high school baseball, my frosh year. Then was cut my sophomore year when only 9 of the 25 who played as frosh made the team. Reality sunk in!
We lived at the baseball fields, and I was in heaven! In fact, the Pinto League baseball field is named after my father, who died when I was 10. He was a dedicated coach, and very active in FYB. I loved chasing foul balls on Saturdays, and taking them back to the snack bar for a free pack of seeds or an icee!
The good ole days!
My son was 6 when he started with the local Little League Association, and I cringed going to games. And we forced my son to finish the season.
They practiced one night a week, and had two games per week. Some weeks, they had 3 games. As I told the coach that year, “I’m a high school athletic director, and my 6 year old’s team is playing more games per week than our high school.” This was WAY too much baseball for a 6 year old. It’s way too much of any sport for a SIX year old.
But what made the games so stinking boring, and very anti productive was how dads have taken the tee out of the game for these youngsters.
The way these young kids are forced to learn how to hit now. It’s brutal. It’s painstaking.
I played youth baseball in the 80s. Back when I played, we learned how to hit by using a tee. We hit off that tee for the first two years! Imagine that, a first year kid hitting a stationary ball for the entire year. It simply doesn’t happen anymore.
Somewhere along the way, overzealous dads have ruined the game for today’s youth. They start pitching to these kids as 4 and 5 year olds, forcing young kids who can barely swing a bat, and who have poor eye-hand coordination, to hit a little moving ball.
It is what has ruined the sport for kids, in my opinion. Sadly, I don’t think my kid will ever play again. He loves basketball and football so much. Action all of the time. 9 year olds need that action.
“It is way too boring dad. I hate standing around while those kids keep swinging and missing.”
Here’s what happens when you go to a local little league game for the 5-6 year olds. Dad gets out there and throws the baseball at the kid three times. And it’s a small MIRACLE if that kid hits the first pitch. Or the second pitch . . . .
And so, all of those kids standing around in the infield and outfield simply stand. . . . . and wait . . . . and wait . . . … waiting . . . . . still waiting. . . . . . .
When I played, EVERY kid would get up there and hit that ball off the tee. Usually, they would make contact the first time they swung the bat. And EVERY kid would get up during the inning!
The result: CONSTANT ACTION! Every kid hit the ball! Every kid in the outfield and infield was chasing that ball every 30-45 seconds.
Stark contrast to 2016 . . . . .
Get the tee out, kid swings and makes contact.
This whole charade takes at least a minute or two. Sure enough, the catcher never catches the pitched ball. So he is back there trying to find it. 5 or 6 year old looking through an oversized mask, with an oversized chest protector, and oversized knee pads. He finally finds the ball, and “throws” it back to the dad who is pitching. That never gets there, so now dad is chasing the ball.
Pitch 1 done.
No wonder the right fielder is picking daisies!
Remember how I said when we hit off of the tee, every kid would hit every inning. So, I got to hit SEVEN times per game. Now these kids usually hit just twice, maybe three times.
Mr. Ripken, if you want to get more kids playing baseball, get the tee back in the game. MANDATE it! Make every kid under 8 years old hit off the tee! Tell these dads to relax. Their kids WILL get pitched to one day very soon.
I think this is the most important thing that baseball can do to appeal today’s youth.
A baseball lover