The youth hockey season is nearly over and those families who pay for the pleasure of watching their children play on travel teams will get a breather. Unless, of course, they play travel baseball, or soccer, or softball, or any youth sport which requires road trips.
Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen remembers being a good player, even way back in the day in his small Florida town:
But nobody outside of Fort Meade knew who I was, even when I was 12 years old, the same age as those kids playing in the Little League World Series. When you’re a kid from a low-income family who has talent, how do you get recognized?
McCutchen looks at the price tag for today’s young players now taking the field:
Now you have to pay thousands of dollars for the chance to be noticed in showcase tournaments in big cities. My parents loved me, but they had to work hard just to put food on the table. They didn’t have the option of skipping a shift to take me to a tournament over the weekend. The hard choices started when I was very young. “Do you want that video game system for Christmas or do you want a baseball bat?”
A lot of talented kids my age probably picked the Playstation, and that was it. It was over for them. I always chose the new bat or glove.
But all the scraping and saving in the world wasn’t going to be enough for my family to send me an hour north to Lakeland every weekend to play against the best competition. That’s the challenge for families today. It’s not about the $100 bat. It’s about the $100-a-night motel room and the $30 gas money and the $300 tournament fee.
McCutchen was lucky in that he had coaches and other players’ parents helping him financially and supporting him as he made his way from Fort Meade, through the “glamorous towns” of Williamsport, Hickory, Altoona, and Indianapolis to, eventually, Pittsburgh. But today, it takes more than luck and good baseball skills to get out of small-town America and onto a major-league diamond — something that kids from low-income families don’t have:
There is only one other African-American player on the Pittsburgh Pirates with me — Josh Harrison. People ask why I think our numbers are declining. There’s a lot of talk about kids thinking that baseball is slow and boring, or that they’d rather sit at home and play video games. Maybe there’s some truth to that, but there is a deeper problem that affects low-income kids of all races.
Fixing that problem is complicated. But when I was a kid, I looked at baseball players growing up in Latin America with a lot of envy. If you’re a talented kid in the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico, a team can come along and say, “We’re going to sign you for $50,000 and take you into our organization and develop you, feed you, take care of your travel.”
When I was a 14-year-old kid whose family was struggling, that would have meant everything to me. I would have taken that deal in a second.
Read the rest of Andrew McCutchen’s insightful article here. And remember: Only 28 days until Opening Day!