Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Baseball is a Simple Game...But it's too damned Expensive

I think Crash Davis would agree with me. Baseball is, indeed, a simple game.

“You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose; sometimes it rains.”

I was all set to write something humorous about baseball and kids and the equipment you need to play the game. But everything came out sarcastic, whiney and trite. So what I thought I’d do is just revert to umbrage.

Last spring a high school pitcher in Northern California got hit in the head by a batted ball coming off the barrel of an exotic material bat designed to create a “trampoline effect” of acceleration. He nearly died. A bill was introduced in the legislature to ban all but wooden bats until the California Interscholastic Federation agreed to a rule requiring non-wood bats to meet the “Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution” standard which measures the “liveliness of the ball off the bat”.

New bats that meet these specifications cost between $200 and $400. Each. Teams are trying to figure out how to afford this equipment.

An article last week in the San Diego Union Tribune discussed the new bat rules

One coach at an upscale high school here in the San Diego area said, “obviously it was passed for safety reasons…but the new bats are so bad that it’s going to take away from the game of baseball at our level. There’s just no pop. The offense of high school baseball is going to totally change.”

Awwwww, gee that’s just too bad. What do you mean, coach? That you’re going to have to teach your kids how to bunt and how to put the ball in play and make contact? How to hit and run? How to be aggressive and stretch a single into a double? You mean—let the kids have the enjoyment of baseball beyond just hitting “dingers” or “taters”?

Another coach said, “It’s going to allow for a better game. It’s going to bring a little more balance back into the game instead of just everybody sitting back and trying to hit a three-run jack.”

And, a player for a high school nearby said “I don’t think it’s that bad. The only main difference is the ball really doesn’t get into that second gear and just take off,” he said. “It’s just going to be more true baseball. People are going to have to play the game right.”

These 2 seem to have the right attitude. For years, high school and college players who have realistic expectations of playing baseball professionally have played in summer leagues to learn how to hit with wooden bats. Their whole approach to batting has to change. They can no longer hit a double off the handle of the bat. The ball doesn’t leap off the bat and go into orbit. Their mechanics have to improve dramatically and for many, so does their approach to hitting.

OK, so I’m jealous. In 5 years of playing American Legion and some college ball I hit all of 1 home run. It felt good. But not as good as all the at bats I had where I got a single or double, ran the bases aggressively and made something happen. That was a lot more fun.

But what’s bugging my butt the most is that baseball is now an incredibly expensive sport. It’s rarely, if ever played just for fun. You seldom see kids out throwing the ball around (or kids and dads) or out playing some version of baseball just for fun and something to do on a sunny day.

High school players don’t need $400 bats and Little Leaguers don’t need $200 bats.

That’s the joy of the game. Yeah, I played organized ball from the time I was about 9 years old. But I played a lot more baseball in the backyard and on vacant lots as a kid than I ever did at the practice field or Little League field.

You can still get a wooden baseball bat for $25. And yeah, you can get them for over $100 too. Take the game back to wood. Otherwise it’s all about the money. The only good thing about the “BBCOR” bats is that the “ping” sound is replaced by something closer to the old fashioned “crack” of a wooden bat. If schools and coaches and leagues are concerned about breaking wooden bats, well then teach the kids to bat properly and breakage will be diminished. In my American Legion days, I saved my money and spend about $10 to buy a pro-model Louisville Slugger, Nellie Fox bat and it never broke. I took care of it. And by the way, I was a .300 plus hitter.

This sport is pricing itself out of the range for way too many kids—just like football has done. It’s gotten away from being a game and is purely an “organized” sport anymore.

And that’s too bad. Because baseball is a simple game…

quotes from San Diego Union Tribune article 1/10/2011 by P.K. Daniel

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