If there was any question that baseball season is upon us, it was answered a couple of weeks ago in the daily comics, when the “Peanuts” gang opened another season, albeit with another loss. And if Charlie Brown says it’s time to play ball, who are we to argue?
We all know that one of the beauties of baseball is that timelessness, especially in its purest form, Little League. But that doesn’t mean time hasn’t changed the game – not necessarily the way we play it, but the way it plays us. People old enough to recall what it used to be like (“old enough” being defined as anybody who remembers walking across the room to change television channels) will be able to relate.
If you grew up in Brandywine Hundred in the 1950s and ‘60s, you played for your neighborhood team in the Concord Little League, and in those Baby Boom years there were enough kids in our neighborhood to stock teams in three different divisions. So you played organized ball with your friends, the same guys (no girls allowed) with whom you played everything else. Everybody knew each other, including the parents and coaches, and there was just a nice Leave it to Beaver atmosphere about it.
Back then you played on open fields without fences and half the time the grass in the outfield wasn’t even mowed. Nobody had a full uniform or wore real baseball spikes or had any of the big-league equipment that Little Leaguers today take for granted. You got a tee-shirt with your team name on it (Shipley Heights Hornets) and a cap, but the rest of your uniform consisted of jeans and sneakers. Not even big leaguers wore batting gloves back then, much less Little Leaguers.
Times have changed, as they tend to do. Now there aren’t enough kids in the neighborhoods to field even one team, so local businesses sponsor them and you never know on which team you’ll end up or who your teammates will be.
And as times have changed, so has the cost of outfitting your Little Leaguer. Back in the day, youth baseball leagues cost next to nothing. The neighborhood civic associations picked up most of the fees and supplied most of the equipment. All a kid had to bring was his glove and maybe his favorite bat (wooden, of course), and he slung the glove over the bat and carried it on his shoulder, not in a $40 bat bag.
Nowadays, that jeans-and-sneakers approach would get you laughed off the team. Kids want more and more equipment – full uniforms are a given — because they need it or just because it makes them look cool, or at least in step with the other kids.
A recent visit to a local sporting goods store shows how expensive such a simple game has become. Some items range in price depending on quality and/or brand name, so this shopping list averaged out those items in a very unscientific way.
Batting gloves: $30
Bat bag: $40
Sliding shorts: $30
Sliding glove: $20
Shin guards: $30
Batting tee: $35
Bat weight (donut): $12
Wrist bands: $12
And last, but certainly not least — Protective cup: $25
That’s almost $700. Plus if you’re a catcher, expect to spend as much as $400 more.
So, today’s kids are spoiled. But don’t think I pine for the good ol’ days. I’m just jealous that we didn’t have any of that cool stuff. And some places back then did have it, which made me even more envious. I would go to Dewey Beach in the summer and one of my friends who lived there year-round, Mark Burton, played in a local Little League. And they had everything, including major-league nicknames. Mark played for the Dodgers and their full uniforms (including stirrup socks) looked just like the big-league versions. That certainly put my green Shipley Heights Hornets tee-shirt to shame.
Plus they played in a real mini-stadium, which had a manicured infield and outfield fences that advertised local businesses. They also had bleachers, a small press box and – best of all – a concession stand. At Shipley Field, our home turf in the Concord Little League, all we had was crab grass.
Those kinds of amenities are standard stuff now, of course. Little League baseball has become more organized and more expensive over the years, although one thing hasn’t changed. They dress better today, but that doesn’t mean they have more fun.