Baseball Makes Men from Boys
Baseball gives a growing boy self-poise and self-reliance. Baseball is a man maker.
— Albert Goodwill Spalding
Every Season is the Same
Every spring and fall, tens of thousands of kids compete in youth baseball programs around the country. There's Little League in the north, Dixie League in the south, Babe Ruth league, and even Cal Ripken baseball. Some leagues name the age groups, like midgets and pee-wees, while others use numbers like 10u (meaning 10 years old and under). The names and rules may vary, but these are just details of a larger picture.
The common experience of youth baseball transcends leagues and geographic peculiarities. From the first year of t-ball until the last year of kid pitch, each season follows the same pattern. Only the young players' skill level changes. This poem paints that picture.
Youth Baseball & Your Kids
The Youth Baseball Experience
Early spring is sign-up time
For this 10-week long commitment
"Take a copy of this season's schedule,
And buy some new equipment."
"If he has outgrown his bat from last year,
Then keep it for his little brother.
Your registration fee pays for his shirt.
What's his size and his favorite number?"
"Buy pants and socks at the sporting goods store.
His helmet and glove should still fit.
We'll need him to attend every practice and game.
We're counting on him, so don't quit."
When his first practice arrives, he meets the coach
And, quickly, must remember new names.
He might know some of the kids, already,
From school or past season's games.
"Lay your gloves on the ground. Form a circle.
Now everybody stretch. Then relax.
Hold for ten seconds. Then do the next.
Now run to the fence and back."
In the beginning, they teach him the basics:
How to stand, how to swing, how to hit,
How to run, how to tag a runner, how to scoop the ball,
How to hold his glove open and catch it.
From t-ball to coach pitch to player pitch,
He learns to discern balls from strikes.
Each season, his swing improves a bit,
So he more easily hits pitches he likes.
Yet a ten-year old pitcher is trying hard
Just to deliver the ball over home plate.
He hits many batters. It's part of the process,
As he learns to pitch true and straight.
But in coming years, as the batters improve,
He'll add pitches to his arsenal,
Gradually increasing his skill and speed,
Boosting his accuracy to excellent, from marginal.
The youngest outfielders are chided by coach,
"Look alive out there! Pay attention!"
They stare out to space or swing their arms.
Of their job they have no comprehension.
Most young players don't hit the ball that far,
So outfielders lack interaction.
Soon enough, they'll learn to back up the infield,
And harder hits will dissuade distraction.
If he shows the right skills, a boy moves infield.
Second base and shortstop guard the line.
They hustle hard and work closely together,
Their partnership they continually refine.
First base goes to the stickiest glove.
Third base goes to the strongest arm.
Catcher backstops the pitch, but also moves quick
To catch fouls, throw out steals, and guard home.
They learn fundamentals, while joking around.
They work, and bleed, and shed tears.
It's a pattern: practice to practice, game to game,
And season upon season, for years.
Baseball players aren't simply born.
They're built through encouragement and training.
They start at the bottom and work their way up,
And only pause when it's raining.
It's a fun and productive childhood.
It's a circle of life without end,
As fathers, those players return with their own kids
To begin youth baseball all over again.
Baseball is a Team Sport
Baseball is a team sport played by individuals for themselves.
— Joe Torre
What Happens After Little League?
Many of these kids begin their athletic pursuit as 5-year old tee ball players. Community baseball programs give most of these young players their start. Local churches and private clubs also provide opportunities. After tee ball, they advance to coach pitch teams and then kid pitch. But what comes after little league? Where do they go to play baseball when they are too old for youth programs?
When kids age out of Little League or Dixie Youth Baseball (around 13 years old), they move on to middle school baseball and then high school baseball at the junior varsity and varsity levels. Some dedicated high-schoolers play American Legion baseball too, where it's available.
Consider this. By the time youth baseball players reach 15 years old, or 9th grade, many of them are playing their tenth season. At that point, they have more baseball experience than most of the general population will ever have.
Youth Baseball & You
Baseball is Life
Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.
— Bob Feller
© 2021 Stephen Ratay