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Never in a million years did I think I would ever be a baseball mom.
I remember the days when I thought baseball wasn’t even a real sport. Yet, here we are. The mother of two baseball players, and one soon to be. Spending most weekends from February to late July, watching multiple games in various cities and loving it! My kids have grown up at baseball fields. Starting in their infancy watching the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine, to the local baseball fields spread throughout Southern California to watch each other’s games. Cheering them on is so exciting and makes my heart so full to see them having fun and improving. Baseball is LIFE!!!
See, my husband was a baseball player in high school. He loves the sport and grew up a Dodger fan. He introduced me to the game, explaining the rules and answering my questions, putting up with my complaints when a game would run long and I hadn’t built up my game watching stamina yet. But baseball is more than a sport, it has its own atmosphere. Snacks in the stands, being outdoors, the electricity of the stadium when something exciting
happens. Our family has quite a few fond memories associated with baseball. It’s a whole vibe.
We have spent a lot of time bonding over baseball. I have witnessed some of my favorite parenting moments watching my husband teach our kids how to play. He is so patient and encouraging, while pushing them to challenge themselves and focus. I love watching them interact while they’re working out. My oldest son, 10 years old, is entering into his 7th baseball season and he says he wants to play professionally. Now, in this time frame we have played a lot of games, in a lot of cities, with a wide variety of talent, and I will say that he is just talented and disciplined enough to make me think he actually has a shot at being great in this sport. He is obsessed. When he’s not playing it, he’s watching it.
If there aren’t any games on, he’s listening to commentary. He watches college, both softball and baseball. He could name at least one player on every MLB team. He can give you a list of his top five Women’s College Softball teams. But one of the concerns we have as parents of a kid who is serious about and so committed to a sport at such a young age… is burnout.
Baseball season is fun. But, it’s also a commitment; not just for my son, but for the entire family. My husband coaches or assists both of our sons’ teams. That means at least three nights of practice during the week, and two games over the weekend. The regular season begins in February, with games going through April. Then if the oldest makes the All- Star team, which he has done the last two seasons, then we keep going through the summer; depending on how many games they win.
In the summertime, these are tournaments, rather than single games. Which means there are more games in a shorter amount of time, usually 1-2 games, maybe even 3, a day over a three-day span, totaling up to 5-7 games in three days. For example, a weekend tournament could have us scheduled to play a game Friday night, two games Saturday, and a possible two games on Sunday depending on how well they do. Times are always on a TBD basis. We usually find out late the night of, after we have played all of our games on a given day, the times we have to play the following day. And the times may not be close together. There is a chance we could play at 1:00pm and 3:00pm, but there also is a chance we could play at 9:00am, then not again until 3:00pm. At a park that is minimum an hour drive from our house, there is not a whole lot of wiggle room activity-wise or rest-wise with that schedule. Don’t get me wrong, there are worst ways to spend your summer days than outside with your family at parks, on the grass, enjoying treats and snacks in the sun, but it is not always easy, especially with two young children who aren’t all that interested in spectating these games.
Meal planning, travel time to and from tournaments, vacation and event scheduling, the uncertainty of not knowing how long it will continue through the summer, but also hoping they keep winning because you want your kid’s team to succeed, its a roller coaster. We have to be all in, in order to get through those busy months. And by the time the season is over, we all need a clean break from baseball. My son included.
If you were to ask him, he would probably say that he could keep playing, he loves it that much. But my husband and I understand that he also needs time to miss it in order for it to keep having that special place in his heart. So we have committed to no off season leagues. We make sure that when its not baseball season, he takes time to explore his other interests: basketball, flag football, book club. He needs time to be a kid, and with our intense schedule once baseball season hits, we never want sports to become a chore to him. Its important that our children live balanced lives and explore other parts of themselves when they are young. But it has definitely been tough, especially when the overall culture of youth sports emphasizes very different values associated with extracurricular activities.
Sports are a huge industry, at all levels. Corporations, brands, and coaches all use players, at an increasingly younger age, to promote their brand, go to their school, play for their team. Enticing athletes and their families, depending on the sport many of them Black, with money, merchandise, you name it. With its trickle down effects clearly evident in the atmosphere and politics taking place at local parks with kids as young as four and five years old.
Everybody wants and thinks their kid can go pro. As a result, they think that by getting their child private coaches, expensive equipment, having them play year round they are giving them a leg up. Every sport has these, “elite,” travel teams or year-round tournament teams that can cost families thousands of dollars a year for their child to participate in tournaments starting as young as seven years old. Not only are these teams expensive, they are a huge commitment for families, as year round participation is often expected. This system forces children to commit to one sport early on. It doesn’t give kids the option of playing something with minimal stakes, just to have fun. Because they are becoming specialists so soon, pressure is constantly put on them to perform at a high level. Leading to burnout and major injuries before their careers even get started. The message of playing sports just for fun or to try something new has been buried underneath the message that winning at any level of the game is all that matters.
*I would also like to note that some sports like dance and gymnastics require commitment at a young age because careers are short and elite competition often peaks during teenage years. I am not commenting on sports like this, my experience is based on team sports like basketball, baseball, football, etc.*
For families new to the sport, not willing or unable, or not interested in travel ball like us, there are the recreational leagues. You would think that with the word recreation in the title, fun would be the primary focus. Low cost, low commitment, accessible for the families in the surrounding area. So let me break down what a typical season is like at any run of the mill rec league.
First parents sign up, depending on the sport and the park, and pay anywhere from $60 to $400 per child. Then kids attend a try out, where they are evaluated by the adults around them, ranked, and put into a draft. Coaches are usually allowed a couple of spots on their roster for protected players, that will automatically be on their teams. Since most of the coaches are parents of some of the players, most coaches protect their own children. Lots of politics go into who gets placed on what teams and which parents get to coach a team in the first place. The same parents or volunteers are coaching year after year, bonding with the same parents, year after year, having rosters and many times positions for their team set long before that tryout even begins. There is always one team in the league that is exponentially better than the other teams, and I hardly believe that’s a coincidence. During games, you’ve got parents and coaches yelling at officials. (Which I will admit be making some down right terrible calls at times.) You have coaches yelling at their players when they make mistakes, taking them out of games if they’re making too many in a row. Parents yelling at kids after the games. Parents complaining to coaches about playing time, positions, calling them too nice when they make it a point NOT to yell at any of the players during games or practice.
I remember when my son was six years old, his first season playing basketball. The team had just lost their first game of the season, after going undefeated up to that point. In the post game huddle, the coach went on a rant about not doing a list of various things correctly. Things he had never shown them in practice, by the way. He then proceeded to call each player out in front of the entire team and their families and tell them what they did wrong. My son, as well as a few others, were in tears. Except for his favorite player, who had not quite grasped the concept of basketball being a team sport, if you catch my drift, and received all of the praise. He continued on this rant for at least ten minutes before I had enough. I grabbed my son’s hand and we walked right out of that huddle in the middle of the speech. I was not about to sit there and let this man make my son feel this way after losing one game! Needless to say, we never went back to that league. And, need I remind you all, this is all just for the regular season! The regular season of a recreational league that is supposed to be fun!