The lessons we learn in Little League are the ones that stay with us for a lifetime.
As kids, we see Roger Clemens (I realize these “Generation Z and Alpha” kids likely have no idea who that is) on television, and we want to be “Rocket.” So we joined our local Little League organization and made sure we grab No. 22 before any of the other kids did.
Once we got there, we realized two things: One, we are, in fact, not Roger Clemens and have no future as a major league pitcher. And two, Little League is about so much more than wins, losses and even baseball. Little League is there to instill honesty, loyalty, courage and respect for authority.
In speaking with Steel Lake Little League’s League Information Officer Bill Wilford, he made an incredibly alarming statement: “Interest in baseball seems to be waning around the country.”
Little League, the world’s largest organized youth sports program and America’s Pastime is declining — in America?
It’s sad, but it’s true.
From a local perspective, the Majors division, which is a league for 12-year-olds, is being hit the hardest.
Just a couple years ago, Steel Lake Little League had as many as five teams in the Majors division. According to Wilford, in 2017 there are only two.
Shrinking numbers, especially in the Majors division, seems to be a trend.
According to Wilford, Soundview has three teams, Kent has two, Chinook has one, FME (Fife, Milton, Edgewood) has one and Auburn has four.
As a whole, the city of Federal Way is in great shape, as both Federal Way National and Steel Lake have a combined seven Majors teams.
That’s two fewer teams than in 2016, however.
Why are numbers declining?
The answer is two-fold: If you want to be Clayton Kershaw, Little League is not how you get there; travel/club baseball is the only way to get there. Though it’s far more costly than Little League, a stigma has been born that if you don’t play club, you don’t go pro.
To combat this, both Federal Way National and Steel Lake have been deemed “Little League friendly.” These teams establish openings in players’ schedules that allows them to also participate in Little League, which accounts for the strength in Federal Way programs.
The other deterrent? Technology.
Why play baseball when MLB 2K17 is far easier and less expensive?
But we both know, Playstation can’t instill teamwork, competition or sacrificing. So, how do you get the numbers up?
Allow your kid to experience their local Little League program, whether they’re meant for better or not. Here’s why: Using Steel Lake Little League as an example, local sponsors help provide scholarships or grants for Little League organizations.
Those are vital because Steel Lake pays over $16,000 a year just in field rentals. Those are included in the fees parents pay when they sign their kids up to play. Those “extra fees,” while annoying, help to ensure kids have a field to play and learn the lifelong lessons only Little League can provide.
What happens when parents spend thousands of dollars on club ball only to realize their little, future Roger Clemens they so badly want them to be isn’t going to ever be Roger Clemens?
Remember, Little League will still be there.
If it weren’t for Little League, the Steel Lake Little League Braves player Ryan Meuer wouldn’t have experienced a moment he won’t soon forget.
Last Sunday, the Braves faced Kent in the quarterfinal round of the Tournament of Champions.
While the Braves won the game and went on to the championship, it was Meuer who stole the show that day.
Meuer went the entire regular and postseason, his final Little League season, without a hit. When he lined a base hit into center field that afternoon, his teammates went crazy for him, and Braves manager Jason Cretti made sure he got to keep the ball.
Thanks to the tough season he had, Meuer learned a critical lesson that Sunday afternoon when he finally connected with that baseball: Hard work pays off.
This lesson, among others that only Little League can provide, helps to make kids tremendous, successful adults.
But Ryan Meuer’s performance Sunday taught us a valuable lesson, too: We need Little League as muchas it needs us.
Support your local Little League before it’s too late.
Jerod Young is the sports reporter for the Federal Way Mirror. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org