It’s expensive as hell to be a kid playing baseball
Not only does youth baseball require much more equipment than, say, basketball, but the advent of travel teams and specialized coaching for kids means it’s harder than ever for a player from a poor or even middle-class family to have a shot at the majors. It’s one of the reasons fewer than 7 percent of all MLB players these days are African-American.
“Baseball used to be the sport where all you needed was a stick and a ball. It used to be a way out for poor kids,” Andrew McCutchen, star outfielder from the Pittsburgh Pirates, said in The Players’ Tribune. “Now it’s a sport that increasingly freezes out kids whose parents don’t have the income to finance the travel baseball circuit.”
These for-profit leagues that have a more elite level of play, and put players from different towns together to play in tournaments against other youth teams, are increasingly prevalent. And expensive. The Undefeated described it this way: “Over the past 20 years, youth baseball in America has become an endless flow of kids with $300 bats slung into $100 bat bags carrying $100 shoes walking into weekend tournaments that charge roughly $100 a kid to play and $10 a head to watch.”
And it’s harder for good players to get noticed by scouts unless they play in these tournaments. McCutchen, who came from a working-class African-American family, was one of the lucky ones. He was fortunate enough to have coaches as well as other families who helped pay for him to be on the travel teams. He may not have made it otherwise. And even then, McCutchen admits he may have chosen football over baseball because of “economics.” But an ACL injury as a teen put an end to his NFL dreams.
In recent years, MLB started the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) initiative to help poorer kids play baseball. But it’s not enough. MLB is losing good players to other sports because of money.