Living in the Midwest, in Spring and early Summer, we play little league baseball. This season started like the last few seasons we've played, slow and a little unsteady. We play in the recreational league, which usually keeps us clear of the politics and drama of travel league teams. I feel strongly that travel teams are killing not only recreation leagues (rec leagues) but they are also killing baseball for young kids. Travel ball is all or nothing. Travel ball is year long and travel ball is made up of only all stars. When I was growing up in the early 90's, little league was where it was at! I had such a great time playing the rec ball season, then at the end of the season, we would have an All Star team made up of the best kids in the league and we would travel a little bit to play other all star teams. Well, that doesn't happen anymore. Now, while there is still snow on the ground, travel teams are gathering, working out and practicing indoors. Most of these kids won't play in rec ball. This is causing numbers to drop in rec leagues due to kids flocking to travel teams. For those kids that haven't played enough baseball, or maybe aren't quite skilled enough, they are left behind for rec ball. The other thing that bothers me, is that maybe a player's family can't afford rec ball, so they are also left behind. Travel ball is becoming an "elitist" group, and that's frustrating.
The ball park we are a part of has chosen to bend to and make choices to make the travel teams happy. This has left rec ball playing second fiddle and, as a coach, its frustrating to work with these kids that seem to get left behind. With all of that being said, a good friend and I have accepted the challenge to coach our sons and some of their peers in rec league little league. This is the same friend that when I found out I was having a boy, I called to let him know I had the catcher of our future team. Then, a few months later, he called and let me know he had the pitcher! We have teamed up for 3-4 years now and tried our best to right the rec vs. travel ship.
Tonight we had our second playoff game in our end of the season, single elimination game. Why single elimination? Because the park didn't have enough time to fit a double elimination tournament in before travel ball and all stars started. Tonight we played in a David vs. Goliath game, and we were David, without the same ending. We went against the Number 1 Seed, a team that is made up of some travel kids, and lead by one of those coaches none of us want as our kid's coach. We were up early after a big first inning, but they came back with a bigger first inning. We went back and forth, leaving it up to us to overcome a 6 run deficit in the top of the 6th to force a chance to play defense and extra innings. We started with a couple singles, then a double. We scored a few runs, finding ourselves with 2 outs, kids on 2nd and 3rd. What happened? One of our kids that hasn't had a lot of experience playing baseball found himself with 2 strikes. Just imagine the pressure. Even though he hasn't played a lot of baseball, he knows what's riding on his at bat. He knows how important it is for him to get a base hit. He knows he has struck out twice already tonight and people are watching him. Well, he struck out a third time... My heart broke for him.
Why we need Rec League Baseball
We need rec league baseball because moments like these shape kid's lives. What did this boy hear after he struck out? He heard multiple people tell him "It's okay", "I'm proud of you", "You tried your best". He had kids on the team gather around him and encourage him. Baseball is a team sport and the team was struck hard tonight. They cared about each other. We had a group of individual-minded kids at the start of the season, who came together, and played as one of the best teams I've been a part of. There were tears from many players and fans after the game. These kids cared about each other, and wanted each other to be successful. Rec league is a place for good players and developing players to come together and realize that there is more in this world than winning every baseball game. The kids tonight will go to bed with a warm feeling in their hearts, but they won't go to bed with the feeling of winning. AND THAT'S OKAY! The picture below is a picture of my son, running towards home. Do you think he has joy in his heart? Of course he does! But imagine the joy when he crosses the plate next knowing what if feels like to lose like they did tonight. Little league is important for a kid, and little league is important for coaches and parents too! We need to support rec leagues and little league parks around the country, because the learning lessons associated are too important for our youth to miss! End rant-
Jack of All Trades, Master of None