CATCH THIS-KIDS NEED TO PLAY CATCH

Catch

I feel sorry for kids today.

The “Valley of the Sun,” the area of Phoenix and its surrounding communities is a sprawling conglomeration of lots of people, lots of traffic and lots of small areas with their own unique feel and environment.  Strip malls have popped up everywhere. Many of the stores are vacant.  Some thrive, others don’t.

I live in a rural area of north Phoenix.  The next street north is the end of the city limits. It’s part of the “Valley of the Sun.” My home is 30 minutes from downtown Phoenix where Chase Field, the home of the Diamondbacks exists.  So yes, Phoenix is pretty spread out in all four directions.

There are still plenty of horses and small ranches within a mile of my home.  There are thousands of acres of unspoiled desert with saguaros and cactus, but little else surrounding my community.  If I were still living in Ohio, one would say I lived in the “country.”

There are few parks where I live.  There isn’t an overwhelming amount of traffic.  It is very rare when the sound of a siren can be heard.  One does not hear car alarms going off in the night.  It is a “dark skies” area, so there are no streetlights.  The only sounds heard at night belong to the coyotes, and javelinas (wild boars). The environment is tranquil, serene and relaxing.

The area is beautiful.  It is in the foothills of a small mountain range.

The community is built around an 18-hole beautifully manicured golf course.  There are homes of all sizes and prices within the two-mile long development.  Basically, the homeowners are younger families.

There are lots of kids in our neighborhood.  I know because I see them waiting for the school bus every morning.

But I think the kids are bored.

I don’t see lots of kids riding bikes out in the streets or in the desert.  I don’t see lots of kids hanging out together.  Maybe they hang out at school.  Or maybe they stay inside and play computer and video games. We have gorgeous weather eight months a year, so playing outside should be a priority.

I don’t see kids playing baseball like I did every day of my life when I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland.

From the time I got home from school until my mom called me in from the baseball diamond across the street, I was with ten or twelve other boys playing baseball.  I don’t know what the girls did. At that age, we didn’t hang out with girls.

There are no baseball diamonds anywhere near where I now live. Perhaps the closest diamond is at the high school.  Perhaps the only time kids can play baseball is in organized little league games or if they make the high school team.

Kids do play soccer.  There are two huge soccer areas within ten miles of my house and they’re always busy.

But I don’t see kids playing baseball.  That saddens me.

Kids play baseball in the Dominican Republic.  Kids play baseball in Venezuela.  Kids play baseball in Puerto Rico. Kids play baseball in Mexico. Kids play baseball in Cuba (although soccer is gaining in popularity).

But I don’t see many kids playing baseball here in the United States.  I would guess the same is true in Canada as well.

The kids that do play baseball here seem to be above average in ability.  They play on “traveling teams” and “showcase” teams that play in a highly competitive environment with an entry fee to play.

Where does the kid who isn’t good or isn’t a “star” play baseball?  I don’t know.  Once again, probably in little league.

Not in the neighborhoods.  Not in parks.  Not on carved out, hand created baseball fields.  Not “against the wall” with rubber balls.  I can drive miles and miles and never see a baseball field with kids playing.  I look.  I can’t find it.

I find that sad.  Maybe it’s different where you live.  I hope so.

However, there are vast areas of the country that have become less kid friendly and much more isolated with little in the way of activities for kids to do when they aren’t in school.  And then kids get bored.  They play video games. They stay inside. Or they get in trouble because they are bored to tears or looking for some excitement in their lives.

I admit I don’t know much about video games.  I’m sure they aren’t all dark and about war and killing.  I’m sure they aren’t all about some other outer space galaxy or universe.  I know there are some good baseball and sports video games.  I’m just not part of that world.

I want to see more dads and moms outside playing catch with their young children, both boys and girls.  That time together is really great, really special. All it takes is a half hour.

I’ve lived in my home 17 years.  I have never seen a parent play catch outside with his kid. Never.

I have seen parents teaching their kid how to ride a bike.  That’s a good thing.  But I rarely see kids riding those bikes after the lessons are over.  Rarely.

Basketball.  They must play basketball outside, right? Wrong.

The Home Owners Association doesn’t permit permanent outside hoops. Why?  For a couple reasons. First, some people find them “unsightly”.  Second, and most importantly, people don’t like hearing the thump, thump, thump at any hour of the day or evening. I get it.

I had never lived in a community with a Homeowners Association before we moved to Arizona.  They didn’t have them in the suburbs of Cleveland or Chicago.  They do in Arizona.  And I’m told they now have them in Cleveland and Chicago as well.

But even the Homeowners Association won’t stop parents from playing catch with their kids.

So by now, you may be thinking, “In what type of place do you live, Bernie?  We have kids playing baseball around us all the time where I live.”  If that’s true, I think you should be very happy.  And I think it’s very rare.  I would guess the environment in which I live is more common than not.

So if there’s a problem with finding open space for kids to play baseball, what’s the solution?

First and foremost, I believe we all must get involved in discussions with local decision makers about the need for places for kids to play.

I think plans can be formulated to find an area that can be carved out as play space.  Maybe it’s not a full-fledged park with all the amenities and trimmings.  Maybe it’s just a place to play baseball with a couple of basketball hoops included.

Maybe if we scour the community we can find some space that is open and undeveloped.  Then we need to engage in discussions about dedicating resources to convert that space to a playable field.  “If you build it, they will come.” I think.

Resources are precious in every one of our communities. But kids are more precious. Kids and their environment should be a priority, regardless of the city or state in which we live.  Kids and their well being should be a universal priority.

Creating play space is not a political issue.  I don’t mean this to be a political piece.  Finding a place for kids to play baseball is becoming crucial.  For young boys and young girls.  Every kid should be able to play baseball or softball when they grow up.

Play, not just watch.

The bottom line?  If baseball is to remain healthy as one of America’s national sports, we must engage kids in the game by letting them play.

If professional baseball is going to survive 20 years from now, we must engage kids in the game today. Not next year. Today.

I feel sorry for kids today.

Realistically I don’t think we will ever live in the type of environment in which I grew up.  I don’t think every kid will play baseball every day of his or her life as we did then. That’s just not realistic.

But it isn’t realistic to have kids go day after day, week after week playing video games and staying on their computer for hours at a time without playing outside.  And when they play outside, I want them to ride their bike, skateboard, walk, run, do everything physically possible and yes…play baseball with their friends.

So as father’s day approaches, perhaps the dads (and moms) who read this may consider inviting their children outside to play catch.  Start a new activity in your lives together. Great things happen when dads, moms and their kids play catch together.  You’ll see.  You’ll laugh.  You’ll get upset because you can’t throw too well.  You’ll miss some balls.  But you’ll have some fun.  Together.

If your budget allows, I hope you make a small investment in your family. Buy a baseball glove for everyone and a couple of baseballs and have at it.  Play catch as a family.

BUNTS

The Reds Scooter Gennett hit four home runs in one game.

We’re not talking Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado here. The Brewers cut Gennett on the last day of spring training. What a great accomplishment.  And he’s only 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds.  He’s not the size of Giancarlo Stanton or Aaron Judge.  That’s what makes Gennett’s four home run day so special.  It was a great day for baseball and for the Gennett family.

The Indians and Cubs will go only as far as their pitching takes them. Right now, they certainly aren’t guaranteed to make it to the World Series.  I have great concern about Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, two right-handers who were to help stabilize what was alleged to be the American League’s best starting rotation.  I have concerns about the Cubs starters as well.  Believe me, there are teams ready, willing and quite able to go get the Indians and Cubs.

I have to wonder if the Yankees Masahiro Tanaka is finally feeling the impact of his arm, elbow, shoulder issues through the years?  He’s been awful in his recent starts.  He is dependent upon his sinking pitches for success. When they don’t sink, he’s sunk.  They aren’t sinking and he’s sinking.

But C.C. has really stepped up. Watch out for the Yankees.

The Royals have some tremendous decisions to make relatively soon.  What do they do with their list of free agents that include Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Vargas, Mike Moustakas, and Alcides Escobar? Keeping each of them will cost a king’s ransom.  Keeping one or two might make more sense.  I frankly feel Hosmer is a keeper. He will look at what happened to first basemen this past offseason and realize his market is limited.  But what happens to Vargas, Cain, and Moustakas?  $$$ happens.

HANG OUT WITH ME IN CUBA

You have an opportunity to enjoy a trip of a lifetime.  We leave for Cuba from January 19-26, 2018. I hope you’ll be with us.

Virtually everything is included in the price of the trip.

We will see hundreds of 1950’s cars. We will immerse ourselves in the culture and baseball of Cuba. We will visit Hemingway’s estate. We will visit cigar and rum factories.  We will visit the oldest baseball stadium in Cuba that was built in the 1880’s.  We will hopefully go to at least one or maybe more baseball games.  We will visit an organic farm. We will eat at fantastic restaurants and experience Cuban life firsthand.

If you are interested in hanging out with me in Cuba, please contact me via email at BPleskoff@aol.com.  Give yourself or someone close to you the best holiday gift ever, a week in Cuba.

Thank you for following me on Twitter  @BerniePleskoff

About The Author

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. In addition to his BERNIE'S BASEBALL WORLD column, he's a scout/analyst for FanRag Sports.com. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff