How do we get kids back into baseball?

A conversation with player, official and coach Phil Bova

Youth Baseball
By Ryan Kaczmarski
Over the years, there has been a rumble in the American youth baseball world. That rumble may soon become a full-on earthquake, as each day, more and more kids decide to either play other sports besides baseball or stick their heads in front of whatever digital device they are holding, and not be active at all.
As I heard conversations on sport-talk radio, and read countless stories on this matter, I decided that the readers of West Side Sports should hear about some of the measures that are being discussed to get America’s youth back into the “American Pastime.” And who better to get an expert opinion from, than Westlake’s resident baseball guru Phil Bova, who not only played professionally in the Cleveland Indians organization and coached at Cleveland State University, but will be running his Phil Bova Baseball Camp for the 43rd year, this June at the Westlake Recreation Center.

Phil Bova is known to have a great respect for teaching the fundamentals of the sport of baseball, but he is also keen on changing some aspects of the game to attract more youth, and keep them playing. Photo – Ryan Kaczmarski

Phil Bova is known to have a great respect for teaching the fundamentals of the sport of baseball, but he is also keen on changing some aspects of the game to attract more youth, and keep them playing. Photo – Ryan Kaczmarski

Ryan Kaczmarski (RK) – Why does it seem that baseball is dying a slow death with America’s youth?

Phil Bova (PB) – First of all, baseball is a very difficult sport to play. The most difficult challenge to an athlete is to hit a good fastball. Like with basketball and football, you have to be a special breed of boy or girl to play baseball. You need to have excellent hand-eye coordination; there’s no clock in the game; you have to disciplined enough, to when you’re an outfielder, particularly in the younger age groups, you may not have a fly ball hit to you the whole game, then all of a sudden, there’s one coming right at you, and a player needs to be ready for that on every pitch.
Today’s society is based on immediate gratification, and with baseball you have much less action than sports like soccer, basketball and lacrosse. A batter might only get to the plate three times a game, where in basketball, you might be able to throw up at least 10 shots a game.
We, as ambassadors of the game, need to find a way to make baseball fun for all of the kids, while still teaching the fundamentals of proper hitting, fielding and base-running. I also think you need really, really good coaching, to teach the correct grip, stride and body positions, which is what we try to do every year at my camp.

(RK) – What do think of the proposed change of the youth game, which would include having home run derbies instead of extra innings to determine the outcome of a tie game?

(PB) – I think you need to challenge the kids and make it fun for them, and the home run derby idea sounds pretty cool. We have already implemented situational game-play, such as each team starts the inning with a man on second and two outs. The first team to score, wins. The kids really like it, and it gives the younger kids the instant gratification that a traditional baseball game can’t deliver.
I don’t think you can do something like that in regular season games, but in camps, practices and tournaments, it could make it more fun than sitting in the hot sun for 14 innings.

(RK) – What other side games have been tried to work on the fundamental skill of throwing the baseball to a target?

(PB) – We would have a guy at second base, and if he could throw a one-hopper to home plate, he gets five points. If is off to the left or right, but still near the plate, he gets three points. If it’s a poor throw, the player would get zero points.
If a commissioner of a league wanted to make it more interesting for the kids playing in a league, he or she could say that maybe in one week, you take away a fielder, then the following week, you play home run derby – in tie games, that is – and in the third week, you put runners on base. You could do that to motivate the young kids.
I don’t see any of this as necessary when the kids get older, say high school and college kids. But with the young ones, why not try something new?

(RK) – How do you get young children to stay focused on the task at hand during a baseball game, when I remember standing in the outfield and daydreaming during tee-ball games?

(PB) – Again, a baseball player is a special breed of kid – just like a wrestler or figure skater must hone his or her craft – but it takes a special kind of person to play a game with no clock. You might play a two-hour game, and never have a ball hit to you the whole time. One must ask his or herself, “Do I want to do that? Yeah, I do. I love that game!”
The kids have to be able to stay focused throughout the game, whether they see any action, or not. Baseball is a tough sport, and we need to improvise as much as we can with some of these ideas with the young kids, and just have fun to keep them interested in the sport.

The 43rd Annual Phil Bova Baseball Camp returns to the Westlake Recreation Center June 13-17. For more information on Phil Bova and his baseball camp, go on the web to www.bovacamps.com.

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