Mar 31, 2011, 11:09 AM EDT
In this morning’s invocation I said that people will, come August, start slagging on baseball. Well, some aren’t waiting. The Wall Street Journal sounds an alarm today about how kids just aren’t playing the game anymore:
As for Little League, which covers kids aged 4 to 18, about two million kids played in the U.S. last year, compared to about 2.5 million in 1996—an overall decline of 25%. The only growth in youth baseball participation since the 1990s, according to the NSGA, has come from kids who play more than 50 times a year—which suggests more children who play baseball have chosen to specialize.
Certainly not an unfair slag — facts is facts — but it is a downer to read it on Opening Day.
But I wonder if there isn’t as much to worry about with this. Baseball isn’t the National Pastime it used to be, but part of it being so dominant for so long was that there were way more kids playing it who, let’s be honest, were doing so out of social pressure. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that every kid isn’t given a glove on his birthday and is expected to be a ballplayer. How many kids played ball in the past 60 years simply because not playing ball meant being ostracized? For them and for everyone it’s probably better that they’re playing soccer or playing guitar or learning programming languages or whatever.
I get that this could potentially bode ill for the size of the fan base in that, as the article notes, playing baseball is a good indicator of later following it. But attendance is way healthier now than it ever was when everyone played as a kid, so I question whether this effect is as big as it’s made out to be.
It’s an interesting phenomenon, but I don’t think it’s a particularly threatening one. Either for the game or for our nations’ youth.