Among the discussion on championship Saturday are plenty of concerns over the future of high school baseball – for the fact of climate, competition for athletes, cost, and plain and simply…priority.
Columbus – On a glorious championship Saturday at the state baseball tournament there’s more talk than just the improbability of Minster meeting Russia for the Division IV title, an event between towns 12 miles apart and a lot of first and second cousins.
For you see, the elephant in the room this weekend is that concern among many veteran Ohio baseball coaches, officials, and even some OHSAA personnel as to the future of high school baseball. The question was asked Friday, “Will it even be here as we presently know it…in a scant ten years?”
Already this spring we’ve seen programs diminished for the lack of numbers of kids playing baseball. Many schools across the state didn’t have enough kids to field a JV team, which sends a bleak message to the varsity prospects for next year and beyond.
And apprised of that very fact yesterday, OHSAA deputy commissioner Jerry Snodgrass, the state’s baseball czar and former coach and athletic director at Findlay, showed his concern with a deep frown, and commented simply, “We’re aware, and we’re concerned.”
Baseball, without question, is under siege.
First, there’s the inevitable competition for available athletes in the spring…between basketball coaches who want their schools’ best athletes playing AAU basketball; between football coaches who want their kids lifting and conditioning for fall, and the push is very alive and well for ‘spring football’ and even more emphasis on making the best athletes choose between Friday night lights and wet, cold spring doubleheaders. Because, there is the issue of Ohio’s miserable March and April weather, rainouts, postponements, and the fact of kids who are not playing because of the uncertainty and impatience with the elements.
And, as evidenced by the comments posted in this week’s ‘Reader Speaks’ column, and the contemptuous remarks by many players and coaches over the National Federation’s new ‘pitch count’ rule for 2017, more than one high school baseball player said, in as many words, that baseball has become more trouble than it’s worth.
“I train all year to play,” said several who responded. “I can pitch three days in a row if I need to without getting hurt. I only have two months to play and I don’t want some old man’s rule telling me I can’t pitch tomorrow because I pitched today.” Those were the very words of baseball players who cite their frustration with over-regulation and too much emphasis on safety.
‘Select’ travel teams, some say, are killing community baseball, and emphasis on Legion, ACME, and the simple fact of kids staying together, playing together, and developing a local bond through baseball. ‘Select’ baseball is just that, for the select few that can afford $500, $600, $700, or more to travel and play.
And then there’s the issue of moving the season to start later in the spring and play beyond high school graduation and conclude in late June or early July. A proposal to start later has been temporarily tabled by the OHSAA, apparently, for reasons of conflict with graduation and concerns over management of transportation and schedules…and concerns about how to keep track of kids who’ve already graduated.
And of course…there are the conflicts with basketball, football, family vacations, and the growing lament that there’s not time left on the calendar for simply kicking back and doing nothing.
Because it’s a non-revenue sport, baseball appears to be the odd man out in its relevance. This is the concern of those who watch this weekend’s state tournament and wonder about the tapestry of Ohio High School baseball in the future. It’s not lost on me, and others, that there are fewer college coaches here scouting this weekend. There are fewer arms, and only one pitcher, actually, to have hit 90 miles per hour on the scoreboard radar gun.
“The kids still have a passion for the game,” said one Division III college coach. “But it’s not as much fun as it once was because every coach in school is telling you that his sport is more important and relevant than baseball. It’s a tough choice for kids.”
It’s the elephant in the room…at this year’s tournament!