Monday, June 30, 2008

Sandlot Baseball.. A Distant Memory.

When was the last time you drove through an American neighborhood and witnesses a group of kids playing a game of pick up baseball?

While I didn’t realize it at the time I consider myself fortunate when I was growing up to have a ball field five minutes walk from my house. When I was a kid I remember riding home on the school bus getting my homework done so I could ride my bike to “The Park” right after I checked in with Mom. During the trip I would prepare myself for the daily selection which determined if you were picked to play with the big kids on the big field or if you were sent down to the so called “minors game” which was played on the grass field with the younger kids. It was baseball until sundown. And when school was over in mid june.. it was baseball sun up to sun down.

Every day you honed your skills and perhaps dealt with the harsh reality that you needed to improve to play with the big kids… and this drove us to improve… on our own… without $45 per half hour instructors and Elite baseball camps. We learned from the older kids, from the pro players we watched on TV, from our little league coaches, from our older brothers. We learned by playing… every day… without parental supervision.

Our neighborhood would challenge other neighborhoods to games. We'd ride our bikes to the visting field and play for bragging rights. The older kids would captain us and would decide who pitched and who played what positions. It had sort of a perfect harmony to it now that I think back about it. We went to bed each night thinking about the next day's game. And if we weren't playing hardball we were playing whiffle ball or pitchback ball.. or countless other baseball related games we made up.

I don’t know when this type of baseball “experience” became extinct in our country but it seems to be long gone. For one, planned neighborhoods generally don’t have a ball field as part of the master plan. In order for most kids to play ball they have to be driven to a ball field. I guess this closed the door on sandlot pickup games and made way for the purely organized baseball life today’s kids experience.

In today’s youth baseball society the adults make the rules, evaluate talent and pick the teams. The kids are merely participants who have no real say over what positions they play or who they play with. Maybe I’m in the minority but I think there’s something to be said for kids picking teams and playing the game on their own. Baseball is a survival sport… back in the day those who fended their way through the maze of peer pressure to be part of a “big kid” sandlot game earned and learned something truly unique.

I wish we as parents would slap ourselves in the face and remember the great life lessons we learned during those pick up games. No.. I don’t want to abolish organized baseball.. but bringing back “kid baseball” as part of the experience would go a long way to help mold and shape well rounded kids with not only baseball skills but life skills.

Coach Bob


Dennis Murray said...

For me, there was a significant amount of time spent in the summer on a small lot behind our house that served as our baseball diamond. The size was just right for a couple of kids under 10 to play a game of 1 on 1 or 3 on 3 baseball. Home runs were naturally over the fence into someone's yard. Pick up sports (except for basketball) are largely dead now in the age of fear.

youthbaseballblog said...

remember playing "half field" where everthing right of the pitcher's mound was a foul ball? sadly you're right.. the "age of fear" has destroyed many things for kids.

gpmom said...

Sandlot baseball is alive and well in my Michigan community. My ten-year old and his friends find a ball field (usually at a local school) any time they can. He also gets his buddies together to play football at the high school field. It all depends on the season. They ride their bikes and are off for hours. The only difference now is that usually one boy brings a cell phone so parents can check in! As a "baseball mom" I love this blog.

youthbaseballblog said...

gpmom.. it's great to read that your kids can take part in sandlot baseball. thanks for the kind words about the blog!