Baltimore Orioles: How to put athletics back in the business of sports

Today is the first day of business for the Baltimore Orioles in 2017. That’s right – the champagne has dried, and the fireworks have been put out. Man, New Year’s Eve seems like ages ago!

So while the Birds are “on the clock,” in a sense (in terms of making moves and so forth), I want to piggyback to what I wrote yesterday about guys sitting out to protect future contracts. As I said, I’m the first one to point out that sports is a business. However I also don’t believe that business should totally get in the way of sports. How do we change that?

It starts at a grassroots level, ironically in a very innocent manner. When I was a kid in the 1980’s, I played just about every sport in an organized manner: baseball, basketball, and soccer. My mother never wanted me to play football or hockey…because they were too dangerous (in her mind). But I played my share of quarterback on the sandlots of the community park and so forth. Not unlike other kids of my generation.

However how often do you drive by a park now and see neighborhood games of football, baseball, basketball, etc? Not as often as you used to, right? Video games, internet, and social media have replaced playing outside as a source of entertainment for kids. Furthermore many parents don’t want their kids to cross the street unattended, much less walk to the park to play with other kids in the neighborhood.

But that’s just an add-on in a sense. My main point goes much deeper; how many kids play multiple sports nowadays? My Dad not only wanted me to play different sports, but he coached me in all of them. (And had my mother allowed me to play football, I’m sure he would have coached me in that also. But not hockey; my Pops isn’t much of a hockey fan so I’m not sure he could have pulled that off!) That’s a very powerful lesson to kids in terms of not limiting yourself to only one thing; play multiple sports and try to be at your best in all of them.

Nowadays let’s face it; not only do kids only play one sport, but they’re almost being groomed to be a superstar in it by age ten or eleven. And no that’s not a stretch – you know that as well as I do. College recruiting is extremely competitive nowadays, and if you want to be recruited by the top schools and coaches in your sport you have to be the best. And if you can’t hack it, odds are someone else can.

So many parents’ and kids’ attitudes have become why should I waste my time with baseball when I can do basketball 365 days a year and be really good at it? And you can insert any sports you want into that equation. The DC/Baltimore region is a hot bed of talent in terms of high school and college basketball. Big schools from all over the country recruit from this region – look at Texas getting Kevin Durant, and Syracuse Carmelo Anthony. How many of these kids are playing multiple sports?

Some of them are, I suspect. However that number is getting smaller and smaller. So the perhaps unindended message that parents are sending is focus really hard for a long time at this sport and forget about the other ones so that you can play college ball at a high level, go pro, and make a lot of money. And there’s where the beginnings of the business begin: make a lot of money. I’m not suggesting that shouldn’t play a role, because it should. But later – much later.

Baseball unfortunately is no different. Parents who see their kid can throw a great fastball in the zone are just as aggressive as basketball or football parents. My point is to let kids be kids for awhile. I was never a good enough athlete to play anything at the high school level. However I remember my school’s basketball coach (who was the best teacher I ever had and who lettered in three different sports at that same school) telling me that kids should get to play every sport when they’re young. And there’s no reason why you can’t be good in more than one of them, for the record. If you’re good enough, somewhere around your sophmore or junior year in high school you should probably consider picking one on which to focus.

Admittedly, none of this is gospel. However I do think that perhaps if parents were a little less aggressive in trying to engineer their kids into a star basketball or football player (again, insert your sports) at such a young age, perhaps the pressure wouldn’t constantly be on the kid to have to be the best. Should we train our kids to believe that second place is okay? Absolutely not – I’m not on board with participation awards. However I do believe in not pushing quite so hard so young to get a college scholarship so as to have a great collegiate career so they can get drafted and make a lot of money.

Again, this is all theoretical in a sense. But you get my point, I suspect. Incidentally, what if the kid just isn’t that good of a basketball player? What if he can throw a great slider but can’t locate his fastball? (If you can’t throw a big league fastball you won’t make it in MLB.) Then you’ve put all you eggs in one basket, and you’ll never know if perhaps he would have been great at another sport. So let the kids play, and put sports back into the game!




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