Another season, and new champions in the book. But still, baseball (and spring sports) lag behind the others in terms of priority and fair competitive conditions. Some thoughts on what to do with these final words.
To begin, I heartily congratulate the Chaminade-Julienne Eagles and coach Mike Barhorst, along with good friend Brian Harlamert, at Coldwater, on those schools’ respective state titles in baseball – the second consecutive for CJ and the Cavaliers’ seventh overall.
Then, without reservation, I want to share with you that those two titles stand as probably the two toughest titles won for the 2018-19 OHSAA season; and the OHSAA, along with all the rest of those self-professed baseball ‘bluebloods’ are responsible for making it tough, and a bit unfair for the sake of competitive conditions.
Ohio high school baseball, along with the rest of Midwest, is virtually impossible to play because of the kind of springs we have – cold, wet, and admit it…discouraging. Who would want to play baseball when it’s 34 degrees and raining daily?
Who would want to play when you’re allowed to play 26 games, but because of the weather you have to play a double-header every Saturday to get those games in…or five games in a week?
Who honestly believes they have a chance at tournament success when you only play a dozen games before the draw, as so often happens? Major league teams play 32 pre-season games to be ready for competitive baseball on opening day, and yet we ask high school kids to muddle through the slop for those twelve games, then try to seed them properly for a championship playoff.
And who really believes school administrators and the OHSAA when they say that baseball means as much to them as football and basketball – that we believe the sport is as important to those kids as football is in the fall? Who really doesn’t believe that baseball, along with softball, isn’t something that they’re glad to get off the calendar so they can get to summer vacation and preparation for football and basketball (the revenue sports) in the fall?
To their credit the OHSAA set the baseball season back ONE WEEK this year, in hopes that it would provide better playing conditions. ONE WEEK! Anyone remember feeling a difference?
The fact is, that baseball still needs to start no sooner than April 15, and end by July 1 to give those who play a fair chance at competing in good weather – a fair chance to remain healthy. Please, enough with listing the reasons why it won’t work – supervision, interference with graduation, transportation, and that kids don’t want to play after they graduate. I don’t believe that. Kids who really want to play baseball do want to play after graduation, and they will.
They’ve done it in Iowa for years, and yes, they admit that it’s not perfect. But there’s always some reason why someone doesn’t want to try something new. I just hate to believe that in the case of baseball it’s because the adults are that opposed to change. Because that’s all we preach these days…change! Remember, it’s all about the kids, right? Sure!
I’m going to bang this drum until someone either gets it right, or makes spring baseball an independent club sport. We’re doing a lot of other things now because we say we have to adjust to climate change. That we just can’t ignore facts. So why can’t we at least adjust for the sake of kids who want to play baseball? And if you disagree…I’m listening!
Second, I’ve always hated aluminum baseball bats. I never bought the argument that they were cheaper than wood just because they don’t break as easily. And now that they cost as much as $400 it’s REALLY hard to believe.
But they also portend to a game that’s artificial for the fact that kids who hit with them really aren’t as good as the bat makes them out to be, thereby making it tougher to evaluate talent for the sake of honors and recruiting for the next level.
For instance, at the recent NCAA tourney in Nashville I asked one MLB scout about drafting high school hitters, as compared to college. “It’s a risk,” he explained. “You like them as an athlete but don’t know if they can hit with wood at the professional level. Some learn on aluminum and never adjust.”
Until recent years when they deadened the aluminum bats down, they were like hitting with a high-powered rifle. Routine fly balls flew out of ballparks, and worse, they endangered pitchers who stood in harm’s way less than 60 feet from home plate. But for the sake of legitimacy, we should go back to wood. That way if they hit .350 in high school we know there’s a pretty good chance they might hit .350 at a higher level without the advantage of a metal bat. And a good wood bat costs about $80 to $100 dollars, about a quarter of a good aluminum bat, so we’re not necessarily saving money. Besides, I’ve seen aluminum bats break, too.
Finally, there are simply too many communities where amateur baseball is dying, therefore it’s only a matter of time until high school baseball dies, as well. While everyone seems to agree that ‘elite’ baseball is fine if you can afford it – if the instruction justifies the price – it simply leaves too many kids back at home that don’t play…that quit baseball altogether when they see it’s not a priority in their town.
In my own home community they struggle to get nine kids to even play ACME ball because organized summer baseball is anything but organized anymore. When the high school season is over they scatter like quail. It’s the same in a lot of other communities. Legion ball is all but gone because Legion posts don’t have the funds to support it, ACME struggles, and again, those that play travel baseball guts the player inventory for local baseball at home.
Again, travel baseball is fine, but the issue of organized baseball at home has to be addressed or we’re soon going to have a state baseball tournament that looks like the basketball tournament. In the meantime we worry about wholesome activities for kids in the summer – exercise, team building, and participation – while we throw money at rec centers and skate parks. So…why not throw some money at baseball?
And with that I close the book on another year of school sports. And those who read will soon forget. Thankfully, it’s just ten weeks ’til football…and we can all agree on that!