Today I went to photograph a 9 year old neighbor’s Little League Baseball game. I could not help but be nostalgic and see some humor in how things have changed since I was a boy. Here are some observations and some pictures from the day.
Little League has changed since my days. It has left the realm of recreation and has begun to resemble the Minor League. I am not sure this shift benefits today’s child who now resembles a professional athlete in being coddled if not spoiled.
- Now every boy has his own bat, or two. And a bag to carry them. I remember when the whole team had 3 or 4 bats. We thought we were living high on the hog when we got a new bat because someone managed to break an old one. Then we would fight over the new bat. I do remember one clumsy boy broke the team’s favorite bat. We blamed him for every loss from that moment on. He never lived it down. I am pretty sure he lives in shame to this day.
- Every boy now has his own helmet. Not sure why this is true. Apparently boys’ heads are softer now because they even have to wear them while on the bases. I also know that lice has been a nightmare for teams. Perhaps leagues had enough and made everyone get their own. But it is a shame today’s boy does not get to smell his teammates’ shampoo. But they are also blessed because they don’t have to bat after that clumsy boy mentioned above and smell his sweat.
- Baseball fields are beautiful. In today’s tournament the clay was dragged between games. When I played we had a wide rake in the corner of a dugout. If there was mud or an obvious hole on the field one of the coaches would rake. But typically they did not. And grass was often sparse at best or sadly filled with weeds. These rough field conditions made us very agile and kept us limber. No wonder today’s player is soft, injures easily, and is required to wear helmets while running the bases.
- There are many, many more coaches. One team I watched had 10 boys and 5 coaches. Yep – you counted right. That is one coach per 2 boys. Does anyone else remember the days when you basically had one coach and one backup coach? Sometimes they had to call the dads to see if someone would coach for certain games. I guess you need all those coaches to manage today’s kids. Now that 98% of all boys have ADD or HDD or even worse – BDD, as in Brain Deficit Disorder. Plus, in my day if the coach was visibly mad at you, one had the unpleasant experience of having to walk off the field and meet his parents who always had a certain “what did you do?” look on their face.
- All pitches are counted and there is now a mandatory number of days a pitcher must be “rested” depending on how many pitches he throws. In my little league days we were required to have a 3 pitcher rotation, but those same pitchers could be a reliever any given day. This was very helpful in developing one or two kids who had an amazing upper cut. When older boys would give us trouble our pitcher would step forward and deliver a blow hard enough to give us time to escape. Today’s boys don’t roam around any more so I am guessing there is no need for one child to have a powerful arm.
- Following the “regular season” little league now has a second go around called “tournament season.” The team I went to photograph chose to be in 3 tournaments compiling of 9 games during this “tournament season.” When I was a kid we played one “playoff” for a trophy. Then we were done. How did anyone make it to the Major League? I guess we were just better.
- Uniforms have improved. Gone are the thick cotton shirts. Now they are breathable rayon. And every kid has his last name on the shirt. We had something on the back of our shirts – a great big inflexible number. You could feel that number on your back every time you threw the ball. I guess today’s kid needs the fancy rayon since they generally live in an air conditioned world. In my day we did not have cars, houses, or schools that were air conditioned and we did not need rayon shirts.
- The big, yellow water cooler with paper cups is gone. It has been replaced with large bottles of brightly colored Gatorade. I am not a fan of Gatorade. I would like to point out that the water must have cooled us off better and is another reason why we did not need the fancy rayon shirts. I did not see any water fights either. I guess you cannot throw Gatorade. Today’s kids are missing out.
- Pouring water over your head on warm days has been replaced with a cooler full of water with towels which kids put around their necks. If it isn’t bad enough today’s boy is soft on many levels, they now look like debutantes with neck scarfs.
- There are now bathrooms at the fields. Gone is running to the river and seeing if you could hit the rock 5 feet out. Although one of the fields I played on as a child had a porta potty. I distinctly remember because one day I became a catcher (and stayed a catcher for several years) and was shocked to find out that we had to wear special equipment to protect the boy parts. I still remember when the coach pulled out a jock strap and cup from the bottom of the equipment bag, explained it to me and sent me to the porta potty to “install” this equipment. I quickly got over my trauma and was thankful many times over for that special equipment!
- Parental “Pep Talks” are now allowed. Multiple times today a boy would cry and then a mom or dad would walk to the end of the dugout, meet the boy and give him a pep talk. I think such a pep talk would have been the kiss of death in my day. You would have been called a weakling for months. Today with wearing helmets on the bases, cooling scarfs, breathable shirts, your own helmet and bat – I guess everyone is a weakling. So such a statement would not be an insult.
Seriously, I had a wonderful time today watching my 9 year old neighbor and his team. They lost, but put up a good fight. And honestly little league is mostly the same. Kids still want to win, play hard and are learning from their coaches. There were several “melt downs” with kids crying, but I can remember the same when I was a boy. Eight and nine year old boys cry! I loved to watch the interaction between the boys and how they interacted with their coaches. I think boys should be involved in some organized sport. It really is good for them!
Thanks to those parents who make the effort!