TRITON TIMEOUT: Down goes the local youth baseball league

Photo Courtesy of Kelly Kaufman

Hi, I’m second-year sports editor Jack Dorfman. In this column, I’ll take a timeout from discussing specific UC San Diego coaches and student-athletes and instead tackle topics related to sports more broadly, whether at UCSD or within professional leagues.

At this point in my life, I’m still a fairly young kid, and my memories are even younger. I can remember birthday parties, sleepovers, and family gatherings scattered across more than a decade of existence. But for all of those memories, my most vivid come from baseball, specifically from my first few seasons playing at Knapp Ranch.

Even today, I can distinctly remember one of my biggest let downs, when I was driven up to the field by my parents during a light drizzle early one Saturday morning. The field glistened with a sheen of rain and the infield dirt never looked more inviting. My teammates all were huddled underneath the trees behind the visitors’ dugout, trying to dodge raindrops while stretching and preparing to play catch. Only minutes later, members of the other team, the enemy on the other side of the field, slowly began packing their bags and walking toward us, back toward the parking lot, carrying with them the most insidious message of all: The rain would be keeping us from playing today. 

The infields were all dirt, the mounds reminded most of a slight incline rather than an imposing hill, and the outfields consistently were littered with gopher holes taken up by rattlesnakes during the late spring and summer. But for every shortcoming, Knapp gave me five new friends, one new scrape on my knee, and hopefully a lifetime of memories. 

Unfortunately, starting this season, no other kids will get a chance to make similar memories at Knapp. The league is finally closing its doors to registration. Traditionally, Opening Day is the first weekend in March, and practices already would have started. Now, the fields are barren and any would-be players are left without their league. For many of them, they’re too young to realize what they’re missing. Maybe they’ll move to another league, or maybe play a different sport, or maybe just stop competing altogether. 

For my friends and I, who grew up steeped in the friendly culture emanating from these fields, built into steep hills filled with sage, it’s a reflective and depressing time. Over the last few weeks since learning the league is officially on its way out, we’ve been thinking about all of our memories, collective and otherwise, that we made on those fields. We’ve won championships, we’ve made fools of ourselves and we’ve — well, mostly I’ve — created nicknames that found lasting power even off the field. Just ask my friends Cheese Head and Peanuts.

But now, after filtering through all of my own memories, I have begun wondering about the future of kids and sports. Particularly in recreation leagues like this one, that like the expensive price tags and the arduous schedules of travel or club teams. Will these sorts of leagues survive in a world of highly competitive scholarships and multiple transfers during high school for sports, where the multi-sport athlete is, except in extreme cases, being overtaken by specialization and sport-specific private coaches?

Honestly, the odds aren’t in the favor of rec leagues, and neither is the money. Many parents want the best for their kids, and for those already privileged enough to consider pushing their kid to enter the world of traveling, hypercompetitive club teams, the added cost is not likely a stiff enough barrier of entry. 

With the end of Knapp, and plenty of leagues around the country like it, I feel it is coming to a period where kids will have less fun in sports, where stress levels will rise while playing. Instead of playing for fun, with an abstract hope of winning, kids will be plopped into pressure cooker leagues where the win is king, and where making it onto your high school team or local scout club is the most important goal, not making friends or connecting with your family. 

It’s a sad day in youth sports, and it’s likely not going to change any time soon.