Is Youth Baseball Dead?
Young sluggers are disappearing across New Jersey and the country.
Youth participation in baseball has been plummeting over the years. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, participation among those aged 7 to 17 fell from 8.8 million to 5.3 million between 2000 and 2013.
The falling popularity of America's pastime is evident in certain towns throughout the Garden State.
Peter Becker, former president of the Manalapan Baseball and Softball Association, said the local league has recognized a "dramatic drop" in participation over the past few years. In the majors, featuring kids aged 10 to 12, the number of teams has dropped from 10 to six.
"Lacrosse has definitely cut into baseball; soccer's always been there," Becker said. "But one of the main problems is all these sports want these kids 12 months a year."
Becker said in the past, kids would usually choose their one sport of interest while in middle school or high school. Now, kids at 8 or 9 are making that decision.
Parents in Middlesex County have said their Little League children are being forced to play teams from other towns, simply because their own league doesn't have enough teams to form a solid schedule.
Travel, or academy, teams have also cut into local league participation. Becker said parents are shelling out "ridiculous amounts of money" for these teams, and he tells them that's a mistake.
"The kids - they lose something by not playing in their hometown against their friends," he said. "Say you hit a home run in a game on Saturday. You go to school Monday, and everyone's talking about it."