February 14, 2015

McCutchen: Baseball No Longer a Sport Where Poor Kids Get Discovered: Andrew McCutchen offers an interesting take on the Little League champs from Chicago who took in players from outside their district. "Baseball used to be the sport where all you needed was a stick and a ball. It used to be a way out for poor kids. Now itís a sport that increasingly freezes out kids whose parents donít have the income to finance the travel baseball circuit," he writes. "If youíre a poor kid with raw ability, itís not enough. You need to be blessed with many mentors to step in and help you."

posted by rcade to baseball at 12:44 PM - 10 comments

That is absurd. If the kid has the talent, he will be discovered.

posted by JohnSoCal at 05:22 PM on February 14, 2015

As someone with a son in Little League recently, I don't think it's absurd at all. Poor kids only are going to be in normal Little League. They won't get involved in travel leagues without outside help. The money, driving and time required are all significant expenses that some families won't be able to afford. Not every gifted 12-year-old whose family lacks resources is going to find a patron.

Additionally, Little League around here was the ugly stepsister to travel leagues. There wasn't nearly enough attention to developing the skills of the kids just starting out.

My son switched over to soccer and had a much better time. The league was bigger, the coaches and parents were friendlier and there was copious instruction for all skill levels.

posted by rcade at 08:49 PM on February 14, 2015

The problem is even more evident up here in Canada with regards to hockey.

The sport is probably the most expensive one in North America to participate in as a child (equipment costs and ice rentals), so there is almost zero chance poor kids will even get into the game. Then, when you throw in traveling all-star teams and the cost required there, it even eliminates even the lower end of the "middle" class kids.

I know of a former co-worker who was secretly happy that both his sons were only "average" at hockey, because he really didn't want to have to tell them that they couldn't participate in the traveling team leagues because of the prohibitive costs.

And in Canada, if you aren't in the upper echelon of your age group before you get to peewee (13 years old), then you definitely won't land on a competitive midget team, and if you aren't on a competitive midget team (where you'll get scouted), then you definitely won't be drafted by a junior league team (major, A, B, or C).

posted by grum@work at 01:28 AM on February 15, 2015

If the kid has the talent, he will be discovered.

...playing some other sport.

posted by Etrigan at 10:35 AM on February 15, 2015

grum--the hockey story is pretty universal. When I was playing as a kid, we were on three teams: the house league, the house league all star team, and the travel team. The cost to play house league was already prohibitive, and equipment didn't grow on trees (even in the 70's and 80's). All star involved travel all over the midwest and portions of Canada for tournaments. Travel was a national affair, with games from New England to Kansas City. I played in house league with a couple of incredibly talented black kids from the wrong side of the tracks who were probably good enough to play in college. Sadly, even their house league play was augmented by the families of the other players. Nobody wanted to commit to financing their all-star play, and travel was out of the question (never mind the fact that 3 of my teammates' families now own major professional sports franchises).

The point being- McCutchen's article rings very true. Skill and drive are great, but without a wealthy family or a benefactor of some sort, these kids are going to peak at the local level. How many McCutchens are quitting the game because they can't afford to take it to the next level?

posted by tahoemoj at 01:18 PM on February 15, 2015

grum, I kind of agree with you on the hockey, kind of don't.

The exception to the rule from these parts is Milan Lucic; he was still playing on house teams in peewee before he worked out what he wanted. Then I look at a kid my son plays with who looks pretty special (he's been the best on the ice in very game we've played in the last 2 years) and see the amount his family have spent to get a 9y.o. that good and yeah, high-level hockey is stupidly expensive for families.

posted by deflated at 02:07 PM on February 15, 2015

From the other end of the spectrum, I know some ostensibly comfortable suburban families that have gotten themselves into financial peril chasing the flame of elite youth soccer, which starts as early as U10's with regional club teams.

They bought a house and cars that were a bit too upscale given their incomes, revolved debt to make it all happen, the kid made a travel team and now they're into airfare, hotels, etc.

One of the two parents loses their job in the recession, and after a few weeks they are literally in line at the weekly food pantry distribution (in a black Bavarian automobile which they are desperately trying to avoid ditching in lieu of a used Ford Focus).

The pressure to keep up appearances is a relentless driving force. Financial planning is nowhere to be seen on the radar screen.

One major parental delusion is that the trail of expenditure and debt is somehow going to result in a college scholarship which will justify the investment and level the equation. Not happening in 99.5 % of the cases.

Another factor is that some of the club teams are mercenary before they are developmental and will gladly roster whoever can pay for the consumer experience that includes coaches from the UK and fancy team gear -- regardless of the kid's talent and potential.

The parents double and triple roster the kids to enhance the chances of optimal and brisk development. The kid gets burned out at U16's, starts doing a no-cut HS sport like XC so they can actually enjoy athletics a bit on a semi-relaxed basis, and it's game over for the bright lights and big dreams -- of the parents.

posted by beaverboard at 03:49 PM on February 15, 2015

My son was drafted by the San Diego Padres so I have been through all this. As far as baseball goes, it is what happens in High School and College ball, not youth leagues.

posted by JohnSoCal at 05:03 PM on February 15, 2015

As far as baseball goes, it is what happens in High School and College ball, not youth leagues.

The quality of coaching, opposition, academy and training programs have a lot to do with your talent level in high school and college. I sniffed at it (and a few of the guys I played with got drafted) and my parents were shelling out a couple of thousand bucks a summer in travel, gear, and training programs. I ended up dropping at level at 14 simply because my parents couldn't afford to keep up.

There are a few naturally talented kids whose capabilities transcend any disadvantages - but training and coaching for most every other kid are a huge indicator as to who develops and who simply has raw talent. That's not a level playing field, where some youth coaches are paid and some are parents who are volunteers and have hardly even played the game, and the capacity to be coached in academy programs by guys who are either minor league coaches or guys with connections to college programs is a great way to get discovered.

posted by dfleming at 10:01 AM on February 16, 2015

As far as baseball goes, it is what happens in High School and College ball, not youth leagues.

Isn't that making McCutchen's point, especially if baseball continues the trend of favoring college players over high schoolers to try to reduce risk?

posted by yerfatma at 01:05 PM on February 17, 2015

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