It is no secret that the popularity of baseball has come into question at the youth sports level nationwide. Many youth recreational baseball organizations are struggling to make their numbers and some are even merging with neighboring towns to survive. Good players are leaving baseball completely to take up other activities, other sports, or just quit sports altogether. Here in RI alone, I have witnessed at least 8 local leagues that have merged or disbanded in the last few years. Is it a player shortage? Is it field shortage? Is it a volunteer shortage? Or is it that kids these days are just not that into baseball? Maybe, a combination of these factors and more…
So how do we as parents, as league administrators, as coaches increase the love of baseball in our players, our kids, our communities? It starts at an early age and needs be nurtured throughout their development in youth baseball through their teens and into high school and beyond. Tee Ball is a wonderful program with a lot of cheering and high fives and laughter. Coach Pitch is exciting because you have kids playing the field, catching, hitting live pitching (from a machine or coach), and the game is beginning to evolve for these young players. Once the kids start pitching to each other, the game becomes a lot more than just hitting, pitching, and fielding. There is strategy and checking the runners and cut-offs and squeeze plays and so much more. The kids, just a few years removed from Tee Ball time, are now playing the same game, with a few exceptions, as the professionals.
So besides the games on Wednesdays and Saturdays and the practices on Mondays, how else can we increase the love and enjoyment of our players. Here are a number of great events and programs that your league can promote, sponsor or host to engage your players to be the best they can be, to cultivate their knowledge of the game, and to become bigger fans of the game of baseball.
- Host a Pitch, Hit, and Run event in your town. As of today, 8 local baseball organizations from Apponaug to Cumberland to Darlington have registered to host an event. These are fun events which encourage participation at all skill levels and are sanctioned by Major League Baseball. For more information, go to www.mlb.com/pitch-hit-run
- Host a Jr Home Run Derby event in your town. There are 5 events already scheduled for this spring here in RI. Coventry, Darlington, Olneyville, Pineview, and the Boys & Girls Club already have events scheduled with dates to be determined. For more information, go to www.mlb.com/junior-home-run-derby
3. Sponsor a Hit-A-Thon Event via 99Pledges. I spoke to a representative at www.99Pledges.com today and they have a really cool fundraiser program. You can register a hitter, attach a charity or donation page, and set up an event to help raise money. All while hitting batting practice, home run derby, or at a league wide event.
4. Encourage your player to get involved with MLB’s Kids programs online. The Boston Red Sox have a fantastic website and informational portal called Red Sox Kid Nation. You can get awesome Red Sox gear, discounts on merchandise, game ticket deals, and more. For more information go to www.mlb.com/redsox/fans/kid-nation.
5. Take your players as a team to a Rhode Island collegiate baseball game, or a New England Collegiate Baseball League game, and/or a Pawtucket Red Sox game. Go as an organization – players, coaches, and managers. Sit with the kids and show them how the players prepare and how they field, hit, pitch, run, etc. Show them that they are playing the same game as every single player in your youth organization. Create a positive image for your players to understand that in just a few years, they could be playing at Cardines or Old Mountain Field or McCoy Stadium. After all, most if not all of the players you would be watching started playing youth baseball!!!
These fun baseball events and websites sponsored by Major League Baseball are a great way to engage the players, the families, and the local Rhode Island youth baseball leagues. Fundraisers such as the Hit-A-Thon can help bring in sponsorship money for your league or help raise money for a local charity. Taking the kids, as a league, to a collegiate, amateur, and/or professional game and using it as a teachable moment benefits young players in so many ways. These events take effort and coordination by your league. My hope with this information is to continue to cultivate fans of baseball so it will grow as a sport for years to come.