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.
We would challenge other neighborhoods to games riding our bikes to other neighborhoods to 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.
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