Carole Boyd and I are old friends from the late 1940s and early 1950s who never actually met.
We discovered each other when I was doing the research on “A Kid From St. Louis”, the autobiography of Jerry Witte that I wrote with the late and great 1950-52 Houston Buffs right-handed slugging first baseman who also played for the 1949 Dallas Eagles and led the Texas League with 50 home runs, winning kid-fan Carole Boyd’s heart a year prior to capturing mine. So, I wasn’t surprised today when Carole sent me a link to an article by Brian Costa in the May 20, 2015 edition of The Wall Street Journal, entitled “Why Children Are Abandoning Baseball.”
“So sad,” was Carole’s only comment.
After reading Costa’s article, I wrote back to Carole as follows: “Thanks for sending this material, Carole, even if these are disheartening facts and words that most people close to the game have realized for years. Like all essences of love, our loyalty and affection for the game has to grow from our organic fun and caring for the game (as this author puts it) playing the game since we were eighteen months old. – The other thing that’s killing baseball with the kids, and the pure joy of childhood (period) is the absence of safety for free play without the great presence of adults and organized activity in all that happens.”
We’ve lost a lot to the vagaries of an ever more threatening world of danger to unprotected children. As a result, the kind of baseball experience that kids have today is pretty much 180 degrees away from what we enjoyed sixty-five years ago. Today’s world has taken into account everyone’s needs for uniforms, equipment, rules, league structuring and schedules, and coaching. And let’s not forget the venue improvements. These fields are well marked and often quite manicured – complete with grandstands and concessions sales during games.
Why would the kids of today want to abandon such a gravy train? Well, back to what I was trying to say to Carole, but now put another way: “It’s not their game. It belongs to their parents and a set schedule. There is no freedom to play and improvise – or to figure out how the game will go on – once you’ve cracked the only bat you had – and you’re out of nails for making the sole injured war stick make it through another single day of hard-embraced free play with your friends – on a summer day when – as almost always happens, everyone got to hit, at least, fifty times in the morning segment of play alone. – And there’s no one around trying to lure you into playing “kick ball” (soccer? what’s that) or la crosse (what the double hell is la crosse?)
Nobody told us as kids to become fans of the Dallas Eagles, the Houston Buffs, or Jerry Witte? We found those teams and heroes like Jerry Witte on our own – back in the day that it was still safe for kids to explore their own reasons for passionate caring. – That freely found discovery of baseball joy was the real cover on the baseball that equipped us for discovery – and nobody ever gave it to us. – We freely found it.
I had another thought along these lines when our chapter attended the Sugar Land Skeeters game three nights ago. I’m sitting there – looking around t this beautiful little park and remindful it was in some ways of old Buff Stadium in Houston. Even the sights and sounds chorused the same associations, when I suddenly found myself thinking something that I will share with all of you now for the first time.
I thought: “You know what? Everything about this place is cumulatively like the bell on the old ice cream trucks that used to cruise the streets of Pecan Park when I was a kid. When you hear the bell, you just have to go there – because that’s the man with the ice cream goodies we all craved on those hot Houston summer afternoons. – But here’s where the challenge comes in. – For people to keep coming to Constellation Field over time, they must grow in their caring for what happens to the Skeeters in competition. – That’s the ice cream that the ambient bell must lead into as its payoff for fans being there at these games. Long term, it will not be enough to simply enjoy the ball park. Fans have to invest in caring about what happens to the Skeeters.
The Skeeters’ situation could be helped with the addition of some other Texas teams to the Atlantic League in the near future, but they should also stay open to becoming, perhaps, a Class A affiliate of the Houston Astros. The attraction of Astros fans to see their future talent playing with the Skeeters could be an awesome gulp of ice cream at the gate – while giving the fans a more genuinely organic reason for supporting this excellent package of baseball opportunity in Sugar Land.
For kids, or grown ups, being a baseball fan is like love itself. It goes where it wants to go. And it does not go forever to places that only smell like ice cream. The deep blue baseball fans go to places where they know they can expect to find a triple scoop of the real thing.
And, if kids are abandoning baseball today, it is also because they are no longer free to even crave ice cream. Craving ice cream today will only get a kid referred into psychotherapy and probably placed on some kind of ADD medication.