As fall seasons come to a close and kids lace their cleats for the last time until spring, a growing uncertainty looms surrounding the survival of recreational youth baseball.
Over the years, a steady decline has been seen in the participation numbers of youth baseball. According to a nationwide, yearly conducted survey by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), the percentage of children ages 6-12 who participated in youth baseball dropped 4.3% between 2008 and 2020.
To most people, the question of why this decrease is taking place can be answered with the assumption that baseball has lost its appeal to the youth. However, if you look a little deeper into the landscape encompassing youth baseball you will find a major factor contributing to the decline of youth baseball is the commercialization of it.
“Everybody’s struggling,” says Chris Critzman, current baseball commissioner at Linthicum Ferndale Youth Athletic Association (LFYAA), a community and volunteer-run youth sports organization located in the small town of Linthicum, Maryland. “LFYAA is a community organization for and by the community. Volunteers love the community and want to provide this to the kids. We’re not giving you a product, it’s a community.”
Critzman has coached youth baseball for more than 9 years, and has been baseball commissioner at LFYAA for around four. During this time, he has noticed young players switching from recreational baseball to club baseball and he says we’re now starting to feel the effects of the shift.
Club teams have become a wildly successful business, and they charge large fees per season, usually well over $1,000, whereas Rec league prices usually float around the $100 mark. Because of this price difference, club teams provide access to better facilities, coaches, and tournaments. Being that most recreational baseball organizations are non-profit and volunteer ran, they just can’t compete with what club teams offer and the convenience they bring. Critzman says club teams are so popular now because, “Parents are willing to write the check, instead of spend the time.”
With more and more players moving from rec to club, rec leagues are losing both players and support, which is ultimately leading to their demise. The glaring issue with the death of these organizations is that it leaves many kids unable to play baseball and experience what the sport has to offer. Due to the price, Club teams are mostly inaccessible to less financially stable families, which excludes a whole demographic of people from getting to play. Kids who are new to baseball or those who don’t wish to take the sport seriously will be less likely to play if there are no local leagues around where they live.
Baseball is not a commodity to be sold, it is a game meant for anyone. It’s a game that can give you the fondest memories and your greatest friendships. On that field you feel a part a community of amazing people, connected by their love of the game. Baseball is fun, and should be available to any little slugger who wants to step in the batter’s box and swing for the fences. Even with an uncertain future lying ahead, recreation youth baseball should keep fighting to the very last out. This game isn’t over quite yet.
Justin Haber, Linthicum Heights
Student, McDaniel College