Let The Children Play – Why Support Youth Baseball?

Read more about the article Let The Children Play – Why Support Youth Baseball?
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I’m new to blogging. However, I understand that bloggers refer to key, foundational posts as “cornerstone content.” In my opinion, the cornerstone content for the 4Bases4Kids blog should be my rationale for starting the program. In other words, I need to explain why I am doing this and why the reader should care.

My first piece explained why I was starting this quest and why I included fundraising for youth baseball and softball. The second discussed my baseball background, answering the “OK I’m going on a quest, but why baseball?” question. My third post outlines my itinerary and hopefully garners enough interest so that readers will want to follow my progress. To complete the foundation, I need to explain why I think we need to support youth baseball. Is there an issue with youth baseball in low-income and inner-city areas that requires focus and donations?

The knee jerk answer is “of course, don’t low-income and inner-cities need help in any number of areas?” While that is the assumption, there is also evidence that indicates that youth athletics in these areas need support.

The evidence indicates:

  • Lack of activity causes physical and mental hardships in children.
  • However, participation in athletics including community sports leagues (including baseball leagues) is shrinking.
  • A significant part of the attrition is due to more expensive private club teams that are cannibalizing the traditional leagues.
  • Registration and other participation fees make up a large percentage of local community league’s revenue.
  • Lower-income kids are more likely to stop participating in organized sports than middle and upper-income kids — likely due, in part, to these high costs.
  • Some organizations work in low-income and inner-city areas but need increased funding and awareness.

Active Kids Do Better in Life

Yes, you’re likely thinking, “tell me something I don’t know,” but let’s start at the beginning.

The Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative summarizes the benefits of sports activity in the chart below. 1

If we want kids to avoid obesity, drug use, risky sex and pregnancy, we should encourage them to exercise. If they do, they are also more likely to do better in school, attend college, earn more financially and be more productive at work. Additionally, active children have a lower probability of disability, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.

“Indeed, the physiological health benefits of sport participation are well documented. Sport participation for as little as 2–3 hours per week can result in significant cardiovascular, metabolic, and musculoskeletal adaptations independent of age and gender, and is associated with a 7% lower risk of obesity in adulthood for girls. Numerous studies have also shown the social, emotional, and cognitive benefits of sport participation. In addition, compared with school-sponsored physical education, youth sport programs provide a broader community support for addressing the physical inactivity and childhood obesity epidemics by engaging children and adolescents in addition to parents, coaches, and families.”2

Benefits to Society

I’ve always considered myself to be relatively compassionate. I’m one of those “do things for the good of humanity” sorts of people. As such, this evidence is enough reason for me to support helping kids’ develop active lifestyles. However, others may need to understand if there are macroeconomic benefits to society? I don’t have those numbers, sorry. However, if active children become more productive and earn more, won’t they pay more taxes? Won’t they also purchase and maintain health insurance, increasing the health system’s solvency? Additionally, if they avoid major health issues won’t they require less help from society? It sounds like there are benefits to keeping kids active.

Moreover, support now has a reoccurring value. The Alpine Institute found that active children become active parents who raise active children, so the cycle continues intergeneration-ally. 3

While there are long term benefits, there are also immediate benefits to society. “Communities have found that it is cheaper to invest in planned sporting activities and keep children involved than to deal with the problems caused by kids that grow up without supervision, getting in trouble all the time.” 4

So if youth activity is good, what is the problem?

Participation Rates

The problem is that kids don’t participate in these activities. For example, only 24% of kids ages 6 – 12 regularly participated in high-calorie-burning-sports in 2017. 5

Additionally, the Aspen Institute reports that only 69% of children ages 6 to 12 joined in a team or individual sport in 2017. That means that roughly one-third of children aged six to twelve are less than appropriately involved. Significantly, the chart below indicates that these rates are consistent with, if not slightly below the six-year trend. Baseball fans should note that only 37% of these children regularly participate in a team sport. 6

The “glass half full” perspective for baseball is that its participation consistently ranks third, behind only basketball and bicycling. Additionally, almost the same percentage of kids play either baseball or softball as those who play basketball. The “glass half empty” perspective is that although baseball participation was up almost 4% (softball was up 2.0%) in 2017 over 2016, only 14% participated in the two sports. 7

Financial Stress on Lower-Income Families

Significantly (and why my focus is on low-income and inner-city areas), participation rates correlate with family income. While only 34% of children in families that earn less than $25k participate, 69% of those in families that earn greater than $100k do so. The other income ranges follow this progression. 8

Additionally, participation in families that earn less than $75k has declined since 2011. Conversely, those in families that make more than $75k have increased their involvement. Most disconcerting is the drastic decline for those in families that earn less than $25k. Their participation dropped from 42% in 2011 to 34% in 2017. 9

“Athletic participation for kids ages 6 through 12 is down almost 8 percent over the last decade, according to SFIA and Aspen data, and children from low-income households are half as likely to play one day’s worth of team sports than children from households earning at least $100,000.”

“ ‘Sports in America have separated into sport-haves and have-nots,’ said Tom Farrey, executive director of Aspen’s Sports & Society program. The group released its research at its annual Project Play Summit on Wednesday in Washington. ‘All that matters is if kids come from a family that has resources. If you don’t have money, it’s hard to play.’ ” 10

Competition With Community Baseball

Consider how the disparity between the “sport-have’s and have-nots” effects traditional community and Little League baseball. Both are facing stiff competition from private club teams. “Little League participation, for example, is down 20% from its turn-of-the-century peak. These local leagues have been nudged aside by private club teams, a loosely governed constellation that includes everything from development academies affiliated with professional sports franchises to regional squads run by moonlighting coaches with little experience.” 11

Private leagues are more expensive and can cost – on the high end – more than 10% of a family’s income. 12

“Full-time travel baseball means many more practices and many more games — many of them far away. To rise in rankings and win tournaments, some teams, especially in warm climates, play nearly year-round, competing in as many as 120 games per year, more than most minor league players.” 13

“Travel ball is not new — it’s been around for a couple of decades. But participation in full-time travel baseball has exploded in recent years. For example, in 2000, Atlanta’s first All-American Wood Bat Classic tournament opened with about a dozen teams. This Memorial Day weekend, nearly 100 squads from half a dozen states will descend on fields throughout metropolitan Atlanta to participate. The players range in age from 8 to 14.” 14

Costs to Participate

Costs to play, of course, are provided by the children’ families. Player registration fees, can be expensive and possibly limits the possibilities of participation. For example, Little League registration fees account for 65% of budgeted income. Uniforms, equipment supplies account for 66% of expenses. Costs are estimated to be $75 in spring and $40 in fall. 15

These fees can cover more than the cost of uniforms and equipment. This scenario discussed on the Little League’s web site is instructive (emphasis added):

“The Situation: A local league decided to build a field for the Little League Intermediate (50/70) Baseball Division to begin offering new opportunities for its 11- to-13-year-old baseball players. The building cost to the league was $100,000, and after securing a loan through a local bank, construction began in the fall so that the field would be ready for play the following spring. In order to raise the necessary funds to complete the project and pay off the loan, the local league hosted district tournament games, with all of the concession stand proceeds going to offset the cost; organized a capital fund that requested funds from local league sponsors; and also generated revenue from a silent auction and home run derby-style fundraising events. The remaining balance was to be covered by the player participation fee collected during registration for the coming season.” 16

Pressure on Low-Income Families

It’s not surprising that it’s easier for children for higher-income families to participate in private clubs. “Fees and travel costs are pricing out lower-income families. Some kids who don’t show talent at a young age are discouraged from ever participating in organized sports.” 17

The pressure on low-income kids to participate increases due to weaker participation in school. “The schools have by and large defunded gym programs for children creating a healthcare crisis of major proportion in the US and other parts of the world with childhood obesity and asthma creating lifelong chronic disease problems.” Global Youth Team, League, and Tournament Sports Market, 2018-2024: A $15.5 billion market in the US, the youth sports market rivals the size of the $14 billion NFL, Cision PRNewswire reporting on a new study by Wintergreen Research Inc., September 5, 2018 18

The “Hypercompetitive Selection Process”

Once children fall behind in their athletic development, it’s hard to catch up.

“But pursuit of a college athletic scholarship has ‘reshaped’ the youth sports landscape, and placed an earlier emphasis on winning and elite skill development that often forces children to select one sport at an early age.” 19

“That has pushed hypercompetitive selection processes into younger age groups — some basketball analysts rank the nation’s best kindergartners — and ravaged traditional recreational leagues whose purpose is to get kids playing rather than winning games.” 20

Not surprisingly, the hypercompetitive atmosphere is not fun for all children and they don’t thrive or continue. “Children cite ‘fun’ as the primary reason for participation in organized sport and its absence as the number one reason for youth sport attrition.” 21 Attrition is “alarmingly high,” “one-third of participants drop out annually, and 70% drop out by adolescence.”22

Note that there are additional and very disconcerting physical issues that arise from children playing baseball in this hypercompetitive atmosphere. Some of the proliferation of arm injuries is due to early involvement in highly competitive leagues. 23

Is Major League Baseball Involved?

Major League Baseball is involved in at least two initiatives:

In 2015, MLB teamed with the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) to launch the Play Ball initiative. The ongoing goal is to “encourage sustained participation in the sport for years to come.” 24 Playball.org is a $30 million effort that has shown positive results in getting children interested in baseball. 25

The second is RBI “Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities” that has been administered by MLB since 1991 and has “designated more than $30 million in resources” since its inception. The program’s mission is to:

  • Increase participation and interest in baseball and softball among underserved youth
  • Promote greater inclusion of youth with diverse backgrounds into the mainstream of the game
  • Increase number of talented athletes prepared to play in college and professionally
  • Encourage academic achievement
  • Teach the value of teamwork 26

While both have admirable goals – it’s likely that they need help. With regards to the RBI program specifically:

“In more than twenty-five years, Baseball has spent more than $30 million. Which, and I’m not sure how to put this kindly, doesn’t seem like a lot. This season, Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia will start twenty-seven games and earn $25 million.”

“It’s just unrealistic to think $30 million spread over all those years is going to accomplish much of anything. Or even $60 million, or $90 million. Unless all those millions are spent in one year, and then again every year for a bunch more years. But over nearly thirty years, ostensibly in efforts to change the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of American kids? To convince them not just to play baseball, but also become lifelong fans? “It’s too good of a cause to be a lost cause,” longtime Dodgers executive Fred Claire says. “I think Baseball can do a better job. You can’t change society, but you can be a part of that change.” 27

What Does One Do?

In my case, I’ve decided to spend the year to raise awareness of the programs and money to support them. In so doing, I am hoping that others will become involved by donating their time and money to work with the various organizations that work with children to become more active, especially in the game I love.

This list includes organizations that I am researching and trying to communicate with to establish how I will distribute the funds raised and possibly to help publicize the initiative.

-Little League International “Urban Initiative” – https://www.littleleague.org/play-little-league/urban-initiative/ – explicitly focused on developing the game in the inner city

Continue ReadingLet The Children Play – Why Support Youth Baseball?

Itinerary – “The Refuge Of The Roads”

Read more about the article Itinerary – “The Refuge Of The Roads”
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My Quest –

My itinerary will help me find my new way. As I mentioned in my first post: “I needed a change, I couldn’t go back to my old life, but didn’t know what else to do. I still don’t.” Instead, I’ll search for a new path for my life in “the refuge of the roads”.

“I was running like a white-assed deer
Running to lose the blues
To the innocence in here
These are the clouds of Michelangelo
Muscular with gods and sungold
Shine on your witness in the refuge of the roads”

Joni Mitchell, “Refuge of the Roads” 1

This is not a just a trip to see each ballpark and have other baseball experiences. Nor is it a trip to see my team play as much as possible. No, this is a personal quest to find a new path, a new destiny. I need to fulfill my penance and give something to society. I envision a pot of gold at the end of this trip to support youth baseball.

However, to fully achieve the goal, I need the satisfaction of finishing the journey! I will not be satisfied if I don’t complete all forty-two planned stops. I’m like Frodo – I need to get to Mordor.

Up until now, baseball has been a hobby for me. Now I plan to immerse myself in the game and hopefully discover who I really am. I imagine that there will be times where I will need to force myself to travel or to write. However, by facing the challenge, I believe I will find my elusive new path.

Logistic Requirements

How do I plan an eight-month journey with forty-two specific baseball stops? Scheduling the trip is a logistical challenge, to say the least. A fundamental difficulty is that the tour needs to fit team and event schedules.

First of all, there are logistic requirements:

  • Needless to say, I need to make sure that there the teams are home when I get to their cities.
  • To conserve costs, I need to group cities together, so I don’t retrace my steps and book more flights than necessary.
  • Stay warm – there is no use in going north in late April – the sunny south will be better.

Forty-Two Stops

Of course, I’m going to all 30 MLB baseball stadiums. However, I have some specific things to see at the ballparks along the way. I discuss these in the section below.

Twelve additional baseball experiences will make the journey complete:

  1. Field of Dreams Location
  2. Negro Leagues Museum
  3. College World Series
  4. Little League World Series
  5. Cooperstown
  6. Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory
  7. International Games in London, England
  8. International Games in Monterrey, Mexico
  9. Spring Training
  10. Arizona Fall League
  11. All-Star Game and Home Run Derby
  12. World Series

My Itinerary

As soon as the schedules came out, I charted my path to navigate the journey. As with most things in my life, I created a spreadsheet with the games, flights, hotels and associated costs. After a few edits, this is the plan:

Spring Training – “The Best Week of The Year” – March 15th – 23rd

This will be the 16th straight spring that a friend and I make this trip. We interrupt the end of the dreary winter with some sun, good food and especially baseball. I’ll detail the experience in my later posts.

Spring Training – Jupiter, FL

Score: MLB Stadiums: 0; Other Experiences: 1; Total Stops: 1

Mets’ Opening Day – Washington D.C. March 28th

I almost didn’t have this game on my schedule. For one thing, I thought I might still be working; it was to be my last full week. Things change, and clearly, my employment status is no longer an obstacle.

Additionally, I didn’t know that my Metsies would be playing the Nationals. Note that I use Mets broadcaster, brilliant first baseman and should be Hall of Famer Keith Hernandez’s affectation of “Mets.” They are the “Metsies” in our lexicon.

Mighty Max Scherzer

Opening Day in D.C. also means that DeGrom (“the DeGrominator”) might go against the great, Heterochromia iridium impaired Max Scherzer. DeGrom and Scherzer are possibly the two best righties in the National League, so I have to go. “Heterochromia iridium” means that Scherzer’s eyes are two different colors. Not sure it is an “impairment” as he still has excellent stuff.

Finally, how do I experience the entire season and not attend opening day? I mean – it’s almost a disqualifying event to not participate.

I’m making it a one-day trip. I’ll fly down in the morning take the Metro to the game and fly back when it’s over.

Score: MLB Stadiums: 1; Other Experiences: 1: Total Stops: 2

Jackie Robinson Remembrance, Philadelphia, April 15th

There is no one I revere more in baseball and society in general than Jackie Robinson. He changed the world through his courage, commitment and willingness to take a significant amount of abuse.

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

April 15th is the anniversary of Jackie’s historic first game in 1947. Each year, all players wear his number to commemorate the day and demonstrate that we are all the same – that we are only distinguished by our talents. It is, more than anything, a lesson for all to remember.

I’ll drive down to Philadelphia on Sunday, see the game on Monday and then drive home on Tuesday.

Oh, by the way, I bought a historically accurate replica of Jackie’s jersey to wear to the game. Yes, the only jersey I own is the most expensive version that I will wear once a year. One does not wear the #42 especially when it’s on the back of a Dodgers jersey to just any game. It is also not something one wears to neighborhood barbeques, bar mitzvahs, weddings or funerals. Wearing the jersey is a one day a year sort of thing.

I’ll discuss my aversion to classic jerseys made historically inaccurate when they include player names, in another post.

Score: MLB Stadiums: 2; Other Experiences: 1; Total Stops: 3

Florida – Miami and Tampa, April 19th – 21st

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/ Getty Images

Sunny Florida when it’s cold up north is a nice idea, no? I have always been intrigued by Marlins Park. It’s got touches of Miami’s Art Deco, a big fish tank and the “sculpture” in the outfield. There are big glass windows that show the Miami skyline. I’m looking forward to going.

On the other hand, “The Trop” in St. Petersburg is supposed to be, hand’s down” the ugliest stadium in baseball. When compared to Marlins Park, it is quite the juxtaposition.

Score: MLB Stadiums: 4; Other Experiences: 1; Total Stops: 5

Toronto – April 26th – April 28th

My lovely wife, Marcy and I, love Canada. We’ll make it a long romantic weekend and see the A’s play the Jays on Saturday night.

Rogers Centre, Toronto, ON
www.ballparksofbaseball.com

I wanted to stay in a room that overlooked the field. However, they were too expensive, and I believe sold out when I reserved the rooms in October.

Score: MLB Stadiums: 5; Other Experiences: 1; Total Stops: 6

Mexico and Southern California – May 1st – 8th

This will be my first long trip. While I’ve been to Dodger Stadium, I’m looking forward to seeing the Angels and Padre’s parks. I especially want to see the warehouse in the left field of Petco Park.

Mike Trout
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Additionally, seeing the Angels means seeing the great Mike Trout. Since I live in the east, don’t subscribe to MLB TV, and like to sleep, I don’t see him that much. However, I hear tell that he is the greatest player of his generation so I plan to see the Angels as many times as I can. To that point, there are three games with the Angels on this leg of the journey.

It’s also my first of two international trips with two games in Monterrey, Mexico. I’ll also be in London to see the Red Sox and Yankees exhibit their rivalry in July. I’m sensing that the Mexicans will understand the game better than the English.

Score: MLB Stadiums: 8; Other Experiences: 2; Total Stops 10

Also three possible Mike Trout sightings!

Atlanta and Texas – May 17th – 21st

I’m going to thread the “climatic needle.” so to speak. It will be mid-May, and I’m still thinking I need to stay warm by traveling south. However, I also get to see Atlanta and the two Texas teams before the summer heat becomes unbearable.

Globe Life Stadium, Arlington, TX
www.ballparksofbaseball.com

I’ll see the Braves first then fly to Dallas for two games at Globe Life Park where the Rangers play. Two games? Yes, I need to wait until the Astros are home on Monday – they are away over the weekend. Also, I like spending more than one day in a stadium when I can. It gives me a better feeling about the place. It’s a relatively short drive see the Astros at Minute Maid Park. I’ll drive back to Dallas and fly home the next morning.

Score: MLB Stadiums: 11; Other Experiences: 2; Total Stops 13

Baltimore – May 28th – 29th

Originally, I had planned to see Philadelphia, Baltimore, and D.C. during this week. I added D.C. for Opening Day and Philadelphia for the Jackie Robinson Remembrance. So I only need to see Baltimore’s Camden Yards to complete my mid-Atlantic trifecta.

Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD
www.pixabay.com

I shouldn’t say, “need to see” since Camden Yards is a pleasure to visit. Significantly, it is the first of the modern retro ballparks. I’ve been there a few times and love it. This time, I’d like to spend a little time on Eutaw Street between the outfield and the famous warehouse. While doing so, I may be able to try Boog Powell’s Barbecue, which I have always wanted to do. I’d also like to check out the surrounding neighborhood and Babe Ruth’s birthplace. I may be able to do that the day after the game before I fly home in the afternoon.

Score: MLB Stadiums: 12; Other Experiences: 2; Total Stops 14

Cooperstown Dreams Park – June 13th – 16th

In addition to Canada, Marcy and I love Cooperstown and have been there many times over the years. We’ll go down for a few days to celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary and have a few nice dinners.

Otesaga Resort Hotel Veranda overlooking Lake Otsego
www.otesaga.com

We usually stay at one of the many, charming and quaint bed and breakfasts in town. This time I wanted to stay where the Hall of Famers stay during induction weekend and made reservations at The Otesaga Resort Hotel where we have never stayed. Yes, this is the hotel with the big beautiful veranda overlooking beautiful Lake Otsego where the players relax. We have had afternoon drinks there on other trips. Once you sit down, you never want to leave.

We have two things to see: the Hall of Fame and Cooperstown Dream Park to watch that week’s youth tournament.

Score: MLB Stadiums: 12; Other Experiences: 3; Total Stops: 15

Midwest to London and Back – June 20th – July 4th

I’m tired just thinking about this trip and happy I have 20 days to rest up for it. Over the two weeks, I will travel through the Midwest, then to London and finally to New York City.

London, England
www.pixabay.com

Why do so much at one time?

Albert Pujols
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
  • Timing: The College World Series and the Red Sox vs. Yankees are within the same week. As I said, I plan to immerse myself in the game and experience it all. I had to find a way to do both. Additionally, the College World Series is about a week after Albert Pujols makes his first visit back to St. Louis. I can’t miss that.
  • Geography: St. Louis is close to Kansas City. The Negro League Museum is in Kansas City, and so are the Royals. Kansas City is a four-hour drive to the Field of Dreams location – “Is this Heaven?2 Dyersville, Iowa is only a few hours to Omaha and the College World Series. New York is on the way home, and the Yankees are playing the Mets at Citi Field.

It will be a hectic couple of weeks – but possibly the most enjoyable, as well.

Score: MLB Stadiums: 15; Other Experiences: 7; Total Stops 22 – Halfway to 42!

Not to mention my 4th possible Mike Trout sighting in St. Louis.

All-Star Game & Home Run Derby – July 8th and 9th

The 8th and 9th aren’t on the weekend, but I can leave my house early on Monday the 8th and be in Cleveland in time for the Home Run Derby. I can stay for the game on the 9th and drive home on the 10th.

www.mlb.com

I’ve already purchased tickets – they were so expensive that I just got Standing Room Only. My opinion, the pomp and circumstance tend to be more exciting than the game. Additionally, the game can be long. I don’t mind leaving early when my feet wear out. I’ll see how long I can handle the Home Run Derby.

Score: MLB Stadiums: 15; Other Experiences: 8; Total Stops 23

Since Mike Trout is a perennial All-Star my 6th possible Mike Trout sighting.

Wrigley and the Upper Midwest – July 16th – 24th

After a week off I see the Twins, Cubs, White Sox and Brewers. Of course, I am looking forward to visiting Target Field in Minneapolis, and Miller Field in Milwaukee seems cool. I’m especially interested in the Bob Uecker Statues and good old Wisconsin Brats at Miller Park.

Wrigley Field
Licensed via Adobe Stock

However, the highlight of the trip is definitely Wrigley Field! In my 60 years on this planet, I’ve never been and consider it a bit of a moral failing. Now I will get to experience “The friendly confines,” day baseball and the ivy. To do it right, I’m there all weekend. I want to do a tour on the Cubs off day when I arrive in Chicago on Thursday. Then, I’ll spend a couple of days in the stadium and another on one of the rooftops across the street.

Score: MLB Stadiums: 19; Other Experiences: 8; Total Stops: 27

Yankee Stadium – August 2nd – 4th

This was to be my Red Sox vs. Yankees weekend. Where I experienced the entire series. However, I’m cutting costs and only going on Saturday and Sunday.

Yankee Stadium
www.pixabay.com

Of all the scheduled stadium visits, this is the one that I’m least excited about. Even though, it’s an easy trip, a short non-stop flight to the city I’m just not excited. There is not much more to say. It’s the crosstown rival Yankees playing in a stadium that I feel should never have been built. Additionally, many feel that the new Stadium is very austere. I’ve been there once, and I can’t argue with them.

Score: MLB Stadiums: 20; Other Experiences: 8; Total Stops: 28

Fenway Park – August 10th – 11th

I’m more excited about Fenway Park! It’s one of my favorites. I love the green monster, the street meat, the Citgo sign – you name it, I simply love Family.

www.pixabay.com

With that said, I had planned for a three day weekend watching the Bosox play the Angels and cut back to just Saturday and Sunday to save money. Larry and his family will join on Saturday and Larry, and I will go alone on Sunday.

Score: MLB Stadiums: 21; Other Experiences: 8; Total Stops: 29

Another two more possible Mike Trout sightings for a total of eight for the season.

Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh – August 15th – 19th

I get a couple of days off before I drive to Cleveland to start my little foray into Ohio, Kentucky (yes Kentucky) and Pennsylvania. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been to Progressive Field many times, and it has a warm spot in my heart. I’ve never been to Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. I’ve only been to PNC in Pittsburgh once, but believe it rivals AT&T in San Francisco as the best.

Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory
www.sluggermuseum.com

I’m going to take a side trip to Louisville, which is less than two hours from Cincinnati. It’s a Friday with no games for me to attend and I want to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. I’d also like to see a Bourbon distillery but will try to stay focused on baseball. After the visit, I will then drive three hours to Columbus for the night. If the Clippers are in town that night, I may catch the game. Going to the game seems like the appropriate thing to do. True to my goals for the summer, while it’s a little manic, if I am in a city and there is baseball, I should go!

I’ll make the short drive to Pittsburgh the next morning to see the Pirates’ afternoon game against the Cubs. Before I drive home, I want to find the site of Bill Mazeroski’s World Series winning home run. Home plate is on display at the University of Pittsburgh campus; however, it is only “near” the actual location. I understand the exact location is in the women’s room a few feet away.

Score: MLB Stadiums: 24; Other Experiences: 9; Total Stops: 33

Little League World Series August 24th and 25th

I get a week off to recoup, rest and write. Then on Saturday, I will drive about four hours, to Westmoreland, PA. to see the Little League World Series. I should be able to see the last two games. The atmosphere seems great. I want to sit on the bluff behind the outfield for one of the games.

www.sportingnews.com

Score: MLB Stadiums: 24; Other Experiences: 10; Total Stops: 34

Seattle, Northern California, Colorado, Arizona and Detroit September 13th through 27th

My last regular season trip of the year….

Similar to my two-week trek across the Midwest with a stop in London, the geography makes the stops on this leg, necessary.

AT&T Stadium
Licensed via Adobe Stock

The trak starts with a long flight to Seattle to see the White Sox play the Mariners at Safeco. However, it’s just two hours to San Francisco where I can see AT&T and the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. I’ll see two games in one of my favorite ballparks while watching the Giants and looking out over the bay. The second game on Sunday is needed because the A’s won’t be home until Monday. Then I take a short flight to Denver for a game at Coors Field and another short flight to see the Diamondbacks.

After a few days visiting my youngest brother, I can end my regular season with a few days in Detroit visiting my sister and in-laws. My sister and I will celebrate the end of the regular season and a significant milestone in my quest at a game in Comerica before I fly home.

Score: MLB Stadiums: 30; Other Experiences: 10; Total Stops: 40

Post Season – October

www.nj.com

Post Season will be consist of two (possibly three) events:

The Arizona Fall League was created in 1992 and allows the top AA and AAA talent to continue to develop their skills. There are six teams and thus six sites all around Phoenix. I’m planning to be there for four days, hopping from stadium to stadium as I like to watch the teams play.

The League Championships are a bit hard to plan for – how many games are needed, where will they be, etc.? For budgetary reasons, I may not go. However, it’s important to note that the playoffs are not on my list of requirements, and I don’t feel a real void if I don’t go. Of course, if the Metsies are in the championship, I will be there.

Conversely, my goal has always been to go to all the World Series Games but will decide when I get closer if I do so. Due to my budget, I may focus on games four through seven. Either way, I want to be at the final game. I usually hope for seven game World Series, as I need the season to be extended as long as possible. In this case, if I decide to go to all the games, my wallet may be wishing that the Series ends after four games.

Trip of a lifetime – don’t you think?

Score: MLB Stadiums: 30; Other Experiences: 12; Total Stops: 42!!

Continue ReadingItinerary – “The Refuge Of The Roads”

Why Collect Ballparks?

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.” 1

As I said in my previous post, I plan to take a break and consider a new existence. However, since this break can entail almost anything, why should I devote my energy to collecting ballparks? Most people would likely find it excessive to focus an entire year on baseball. Excessive even if I raise money for youth baseball and softball.

There are a lot of places to go, things to see, and experiences to have. Do I need to devote my time and money to baseball?

Baseball has been a constant source of joy in my life. Consequently, this trip has become one of my dreams. Is it that the game reminds me “of all that once was good and could be again?2 Will the trip make me feel young again? What is it about baseball that compels me to make this trip? I don’t have answers that I can verbalize. However, I feel like I’ve been on a trajectory to take this trip for a long time. Of course, part of the path is a result of my career choices and where they have led. My career and the questions that I have at the age of 61 can wait for another day. For now, I’ll focus on my lifelong enchantment with baseball and why this trip is my next logical step.

You see, I trace my life story in terms of my baseball awareness. It’s a story that has only one logical ending – my quest to find baseball’s essence and my reason for being. I need to experience each stadium and baseball’s wonders. As my father used to say, I need to “collect ballparks”.

I Probably Should Be a Yankee Fan

As a Bronx native, I guess I should be a Yankee fan. I was born just a short 1.7-mile walk up the Grand Concourse from Yankee Stadium. It’s an even shorter trip on the #4 train. It’s only three stops to the Mt. Eden Avenue station and a five-minute walk to Lebanon Hospital on 173rd street.

Grand Concourse Looking South
Siddarth Hanamanthu, Wikipedia

However, I have decidedly National League roots as my father (an ex-catcher) was a Dodger fan. I arrived in the winter of 1957 when he was still distraught that “Dem Bums” moved to California that winter.

Frequent Trips to The Stadium

When I was five, we moved to St. Petersburg, Florida so my father could further his career in aerospace. Every summer we returned to the Bronx to visit my grandparents and other family members. On every trip, I found myself with him at Yankee Stadium almost as soon as the plane landed. We returned to the sanctity of the Stadium many times during the visit. I acquired my early love for the game on these excursions. In classic style, a devotion for baseball passed from father to son at the ballpark.

I assumed it was a common practice to quickly say hello to relatives and then leave for the ballpark. I later realized that this behavior was not the standard arrangement and we were not a typical family. Instead, my parents were embroiled in a lousy marriage with much anger on display. My father’s haste was likely due as much to his antipathy for his in-laws as his love for baseball.

Frank Robinson
The Baltimore Sun via Pinterest

At the time, the Stadium was what the cognoscenti now call Yankee Stadium 1. It was the “House That Ruth Built,” with the monuments, the façade, and the pillars that could block your view. I spent my time learning about the Yankees glorious history with so many crucial moments happening at the Stadium. As I did so, Yankee Stadium transformed into a massive baseball cathedral that held all the wonders of the game.

I’m sure I saw Mickey Mantle and other greats but don’t remember too much from those early days. However, I will always remember when Frank Robinson dove into the stands robbing Roy White of a home run.

The National League, Willie Mays and The Mets

After a few years watching the Yankees, my father announced that we needed to see national league ball. Since I wanted to see my new hero, Willie Mays I was happy to do so. There was a national league team playing in Queens, in a place with a funny name, “Flushing.” What was a “Met”? I’d soon find out.

She Stadium
www.thisgreatgame.com

I believe we made my first trip to Shea Stadium 1965 to see Willie Mays and the Giants. From the Bronx, we likely took the #4 train past Yankee Stadium and transferred to the #7 at Grand Central. It was a much longer trip, at least an hour’s journey to Shea.

Willie Mays

However, all I remember is that we were there and my hero was signing autographs for kids leaning over the dugout. I remember watching Willie in center field, commanding my attention.

I also remember seeing Joe DiMaggio, possibly playing center field for an inning at an Old Timer’s Game. At the game, a woman dressed in a long antebellum dress escorted Casey Stengel onto the field. Casey, of course, stepped on the hem and the dress fell off revealing long skirts underneath. All good fun.

Spring Training With The Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Mets trained in St. Petersburg. Each year, we went to Al Lang Field to see Spring Training games. In those years, the Cards were an outstanding, championship team and the Mets were still a joke.

Al Lang Field
Fred Victorin – St. Petersburg Times via The Historical Images Outlet

So I became a nominal Cardinals fan, regularly listening to my LP of Harry Carey and Jack Buck calling critical parts of their championship 1967 season. I saw the characters described on the record at these games, Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Orlando Cepeda, and Bob Gibson. One night, third baseman (and now broadcaster) Mike Shannon appeared in our kitchen and was talking to my father. I never knew why he was there or how my father knew him.

Yes, it was only Spring Training, but in 1969, we saw Bob Gibson pitch against 31 game winner Denny McClain. A World Series rematch that was meaningless to most, but memorable to me.

Meet The Mets

The Mets opened a training facility behind my junior high school. I remember riding my bike to watch them practice against the brand new Montreal Expos.

Tom Seaver NY Post via Baseball Almanac

More importantly, I followed the Mets progress as they started to improve. Tom Seaver was a real star. That year, I was in Mr. Wilson’s earth science class when they announced that the lowly Mets were World Champions.

The Mets winning the World Series was considered impossible. All of a sudden the Mets mattered and our long, somewhat troubled romance began.

Back to New York City – “Ya Gotta Believe”

In the early seventies, my parents finally divorced, and my mother took us back to New York.

Almost as soon as we arrived, I promptly broke my ankle in true baseball fashion. It was Father’s Day, and I was playing a friendly ball game at the park with my cousins. Feeling aggressive, I slid back to the tree we were using as first base. I caught my foot on the roots in so doing, twisting and breaking my ankle.

I spent the summer of 1971 on crutches and watched games on television. At the same time, my sister followed our cousin’s lead and developed an interest in the Mets.

The next year, when I was healthy, I started going with them.

“Ya Gotta Believe”
Bleacher Report

I remember sneaking out to Shea on opening day to watch Seaver pitch against Steve Carlton. Thanks to Google I know that the Mets won 3 – 0. My memory is not good enough to remember opening day scores. However, I do remember being there the day that Tug McGraw announced “you gotta believe” after a team meeting. This proclamation was the mythical start to the Mets push for the pennant and their rallying cry.

The Mets ended the season with a very mediocre .500 record, yet almost won the World Series! I was able to see one of the games at Shea but losing game seven was heartbreaking.

In College, I Had Other Priorities

Baseball lost a little luster when I was in college in the latter half of the 1970s. My lack of attention may have been because, each year, the Mets seemed to be competitive only through May. At that point, they would be swept (in my memory, usually by the Phillies) and they were done.

Although I had other priorities, I do remember these highlights:

Bucky “f’ng” Dent
https://www.sicovers.com/producttag/10994/bucky-dent
  • I “borrowed” my freshman roommate’s television so my friends and I could watch game six of the ’75 Series. He wasn’t pleased.
  • The Yankees were good, and the Mets weren’t. I rooted for the Red Sox to beat them. Imagine the heartbreak of being a Met’s fan, rooting for the Red Sox to beat the Yankees and Bucky Dent! Bucky Dent, forever known in Boston as “Bucky F’ing Dent,” hits the home run to win the 1978 playoff game.
  • Reggie Jackson went nuts in the ’78 series. The Yankees beat the Dodgers a guy down the hall shed tears of joy. However, I was not pleased.

The Early Eighties I Realize That Baseball Is A Performance Art

By the early eighties, I was married and living in New England. Marcy and I lived in Portsmouth, NH and occasionally after dinner took walks and watched snippets of little league games.

I found that I couldn’t escape the joy of watching a game – any game. I loved it all and couldn’t get enough.

The fact is that I realized what my father once told me was true. He always said that Baseball was performance art.

There is a rhythm and beauty to the sides changing and the teams warming up each inning. The performance continues when the catcher gives his signs, the pitcher acknowledges, winds up, and delivers the pitch. Then, the batted ball, if it is a ground out, the ball is tossed around the “horn.” If the batter gets on base, the ballet between the first baseman, pitcher and runner begins. The pitcher glances, he throws to hold the runner on, the runner dances off the bag ready to go.

It doesn’t matter who is playing, the players’ age or skill level. The art form is always on exhibit. Since the ballparks are all different, they help mold the experience.

I escorted Marcy to her first live game – the July 4th doubleheader at Shea in 1980. The Mets split the twin bill with Expos. One game was close, and the other wasn’t. There was a grand slam and a benches-clearing fight. She was hooked.

Cooperstown www.doubledaycampground.com

We married in 1982. On the way to the wedding in New York City; we visited Cooperstown for the first time. We’ve been back many times. It’s a great trip, with many things to do, everyone should add a visit to their “bucket list.”

Stirrings in Flushing

The Mets started to win! They brought up Doc and Straw and won some more. Then in ’83, they traded for my personal favorite, Keith Hernandez – evidently only the “Cardinal’s second-worst trade.” They were getting closer. Then in ’84 came the Gary Carter deal and for a moment the Mets were the best team in baseball.

The Mets were up and comers in ’83 and ‘84, came real close in ’85 won big in ’86 (when the Red Sox victory parade went up Beacon turned left and got lost between Billy Buckner’s legs), disappointed in ’87 and somehow lost to the Dodgers in the ’88 playoffs. It’s hard to believe they didn’t win more.

Mets Win! MLB
Photos via Getty Images

Before the ’86 season, we were sure that the Mets would win and got “Mets ‘86” license plates. For context, remember that we didn’t live near New York, we lived in Old Orchard Beach, Maine – Red Sox country. Who knew the Red Sox were going to be that good and would face the Mets in the Series? I didn’t.

Marcy was pregnant with Leah and was driving the “Mets ’86” car to work in Durham, N.H, about an hour’s drive. She didn’t experience road rage, but did hear many horns and saw more than her share of middle fingers. These gestures got more frequent during the World Series and its aftermath.

The harassment continued occasionally until we moved to St. Louis in 1988, often with the infant version of Leah in the car. Yes, the Mets fan moved from Red Sox country to the home of our arch nemesis the Cardinals.

Pond Scum and The 90’s

We had a short stay in St. Louis between 1988 and 1990. There was a corporate box in Busch Stadium that we used occasionally. I worked in an office filled with Cardinals fans and got more than used to the term “pond scum” in reference to the Mets, their fans and I. One guy, an ardent Cardinal fan called gave me the nickname “TBK” (Total Baseball Knowledge).

Charlie Gitto’s On The Hill www.charliegittos.com

A memorable night entailed dining with my father at Charlie Gitto’s and then searching The Hill for Yogi Berra’s house. We asked a guy on the street for directions assuming that everyone would know such things. I don’t believe we ever found the home although my father would tell you different.

We left St. Louis, for a brief stint in Allentown, Pennsylvania and then moved to Rochester, NY. I spent the ‘90s, and early ‘00s focused on career, being a good father and husband and observed baseball from afar. The Mets weren’t much, and I had other priorities – but the game was always close to my heart.

There were some great moments:

  • The afternoon that my father and I drove through Brooklyn looking for where Ebbets Field used to be
  • Larry, Ted (my brothers) and I took my father on his only trip to Cooperstown.
  • Leah saw the green monster for the first time, after watching the 1999 All-Star Game on TV and exclaiming “I want to go there!”

The Best Week of the Year

In 2004, a friend and I did something we had been talking about for a few years – Spring Training. The weeklong tradition called “the best week of the year” is now fifteen years old and going strong.

We stay in Jupiter, Florida, which hosts both the Cardinals and the Marlins. The location is even better now since the Nationals and Astros recently moved to a facility in West Palm Beach. West Palm is about 15 minutes away, and the Mets are only 30 minutes in the other direction. Not only do we have plenty of baseball choices, we like the area. The restaurants are excellent, the lines aren’t too long, and it’s easy to get around.

Our usual and now time tested routine is to fly down on a Friday evening. We stay in a cheap hotel near the airport that night The next morning; we go to the game, then check into our hotel and have a nice dinner. Each day, we work out in the morning, then go to a game. The day ends with a dip in the pool, time at the bar and an excellent meal. We follow this pattern until we fly home the following Saturday after seeing eight games in seven days. Our final statement when the trip is over is “only 51 weeks until we can go again.”

Thus, I’ve started each baseball season by immersing myself in the game, for a very long time. In fact, for a very long time, I’ve wanted to continue the trip into the regular season. But, in previous years, I returned to work – as we all must do.

Gaining Momentum

In addition to Spring Training, the road to this current experience was gaining momentum in other ways.

I earned my M.B.A in 1998 and started working with a small marketing consultancy. Soon, I was assigned to a new project that required me to drive to Cleveland frequently. Coincidently, my father moved there a few years earlier with his second wife, a Cleveland native.

It Used to Be “The Jake”
pixabay.com

There were times I was there almost every other week. The visits enabled dad and me to frequently go to Jacob’s Field (“the Jake”) – now “Progressive Field.

In contrast to when he took me to ballgames when I was young, I was now taking him. What started as the father holding his son’s hand ended with the son pushing his father’s wheelchair. Baseball was the constant.

I also started to travel more and could visit ballparks around the country. My father would say, I started “collecting ballparks.”

San Francisco conference? Catch a game at AT &T. A meeting in Seattle? Easy ride to Safeco. In addition to Cleveland, family adventures took me to Comerica in Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Boston, and Baltimore. We go to Citi Field every year, and one July 4th went to the “NEW” Yankee Stadium

Over the years I have ” collected” about 12 or so ballparks, with 18 left to see. However, it’s not fulfilling enough. No matter how much time I spend at ballparks, I feel like I am missing something. I want more. It’s time to see all the ballparks and have other baseball experiences along the way.

Continue ReadingWhy Collect Ballparks?

From Irrelevant to Relevant

Read more about the article From Irrelevant to  Relevant
Our Mission

 Becoming Irrelevant –

Why does one decide to travel across three countries to experience baseball in every way imaginable except for actually playing the game? In my case, I became irrelevant – at least from a business point of view.

Moreover, it clearly wasn’t my decision.

For two decades I worked for an advertising technology company and was considered a relatively strong performer. I rose through the ranks, was well paid and had a good stock package. However, in October my company restructured and I was no longer needed. In other words, I was considered irrelevant from a business point of view.

I was frustrated – my separation wasn’t because I couldn’t do the work, I clearly could. Instead, the company changed its policies – I worked remotely and that was not acceptable anymore. Additionally, an underlying factor was likely that I was considered too old – I was 60 at the time.

I was also very tired – somewhat burnt out. In Silicon Valley, you work six to seven days a week, long and odd hours. I also travelled a lot.

I’m not complaining. I know I’m not alone. Job loss and career change happens to many people my age. Frankly, it’s my second twenty career to end abruptly. However, this time I am older, near the end of the road and it feels much different.

Long story short – I needed a change, I couldn’t go back to my old life, but didn’t know what else to do. I still don’t.

So I started thinking, what does a 61 year old, lifetime baseball fan with time on his hands do now?

I’ll Have A Baseball Adventure

The answer came to me quickly. I had a series of consecutive thoughts that added up to a brilliant idea – at least I think so.

My ideas:

  • Why not take some time, break with the past and really find something rewarding to do with the rest of my life?
  • I can indulge my baseball fantasy and travel to every Major League Baseball stadium in the country – I’ve always wanted to do it?
  • A thirty-stadium tour will be great, but a really rewarding baseball experience needs to include some other stops. Spring Training, the Little League and College World Series, international games, the Negro League Museum and more.
  • I’ll need to keep a journal to support this journey of self-exploration.
  • I’m a budding photographer so I’ll certainly take pictures.
  • It stands to reason that I can transform my journal and photos into a book that someone can be convinced to publish.
  • My friends will want to keep tabs on my progress – so I’ll post updates on Facebook, maybe learn to Tweet and I’ll have photos to post on Instagram.

The Adventure Needs Meaning

Now, the reason I have a blog and you are hopefully still reading it.

Note that I am very sensitive to the fact that you are likely wondering what the point of this story is.

The trip needs to contribute to the common good. I can’t just travel around the country eight months, selfishly enjoying baseball and contemplating my life. It’s time to make a difference.

Last summer, a close friend from work cycled through the Himalayas with his son. Yes, you can do that if you have the energy, money and are physically capable. In contrast, a baseball trip through the United States, Mexico and England doesn’t sound quite as crazy and the bathrooms are much nicer.

They posted photos and commentary on Facebook – just like I plan to do but also asked their friends to donate to a charity called “Take Her Back” which focuses on liberating children from forced prostitution.

Clearly, I should do something similar. I can include a link on my facebook page directing my friends and followers to donate to a cause associated with the trip’s main subject – baseball. How about supporting youth baseball in low income and inner city areas?

However, if I just “market” the idea to my Facebook friends, I won’t raise that much money. I possibly can generate a few thousand dollars, but I want to raise as much money as possible. Instead, I can raise much more money if I step out of my comfort zone and take the idea public. I can build a website where I post blog updates after each baseball experience. Additionally, I can maintain branded social media accounts that link with the website. Moreover, I can coordinate with existing youth baseball organizations to validate and publicize the program.

Becoming Relevant

So that is my story and this is my plan. I have a list of 42 stops on my journey – please see the schedule. The journey starts in the middle of March during spring training and will hopefully end in October at the last game of the World Series. In the meantime, I am doing outreach to get organizational support, I have built a website and am buying tickets and reserving hotel rooms.

I want to reiterate that the trip is entirely self-funded – all donations minus the collection fees will go to the selected charity. I hope you follow my progress and please donate to the cause. It’s a good way for all of us to become relevant again, don’t you think?

Continue ReadingFrom Irrelevant to Relevant