Cal Ripken jr. has been named special advisor to the Commissioner of MLB on youth baseball programs.
In this function the Iron man will advise commissioner Rob Manfred on programs such as Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and the Urban Youth Academies.
The choice for Ripken is not a strange one since he and his brother Billy are involved in their own youth program, Ripken Baseball. The purpose of his job is to evaluate and improve the quality of existing programs and identify new programs that can grow the sport. He also will represent MLB at amateur baseball events and other public events.
But you can wonder if this is enough. The other day I read an article on how baseball is losing ground in the USA. First of all it has to deal with the fact that the middle class in the USA is slowly disappearing. As the rich are getting richer, baseball is getting more and more a white sport. The article stated about a little league in the City of Newburgh, a working class city on the banks of the Hudson River. The league started the 2015 season with only 74 players, compared to the 206 in 2009.
Of course baseball has to compete nowadays with many other sports like soccer that is gaining ground rapidly among children. But when a league is about to fold what is the alternative? You can place the remaining teams in surrounding little league programs, but that also means that the game will be less accessible for the kids as their parents do not have the time to drive them or neither do have the money. If you maintain the league, children will lose interest as well as they have to play the same three other teams every other week.
In another part of the US, Miami, travel teams play more than 100 games per year. These kids are practicing two or three days a week. To them it is a lifestyle. But this lifestyle costs a lot of money that many families do not have. We are talking thousands of dollars per year. A study of travel teams has shown that only 3% of travel teams are black children.
Perhaps MLB and Little League should keep an eye on the city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. This year volunteers started a project to raise attention of kids and introduce them to baseball. These kids were from lower income families, that do not have the money to let their kids play any sports. The kids were allowed to play on a local team in the southern part of the city. It was a huge success as over hundred kids attended and finished the season. The next step will be to integrate these children into clubs in Rotterdam. That may be the hard part because of the finances. But as it is good to have children playing a sport in the open air, perhaps the city of Rotterdam can financially support this program.
It is not about children that play the game, it is also about the future fans in the stands. If less children are playing baseball, this will result in fewer fans that will go out to see an MLB game.
One thing is sure: if the current development will continue, baseball may become a white sport indeed and perhaps baseball players may become an extinct species in the future.